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BSRIA Briefing: performance & wellbeing beyond complianceNovember 2016

On Friday 11th November BSRIA welcomed 380 industry professionals to The Brewery in London for its annual Briefing. This flagship event was opened by BSRIA Chief Executive Julia Evans, who welcomed leading industry figures. She stressed that we were all to expect an “engaging and exciting” morning. The audience would be “energised and educated” by the stimulating speakers on the agenda!

Julia reminded everyone that wellbeing was “currently very much in the news” and “at the forefront of academic thinking in the engineering world”. Indeed, Building Performance Evaluation and sustainability would dramatically change in the next 20 years.

With that, Julia welcomed the speakers to discuss the theme of this year’s Briefing: ‘performance & wellbeing, beyond compliance’. Click links below to jump to section on individual speakers:

Lynne Ceeney – BSRIA
Prof Paul Cullinan – Royal Brompton Hospital, London
Nicola Gillen – AECOM
Ben Roberts – Hoare Lea
• Matthew Webster – British Land (visit Matthew's blog)

The event was chaired by Sarah Ratcliffe, Programme Director, Better Buildings Partnership, who asked the question: “What do we know about performance and wellbeing?” Sarah said that 80 per cent of the buildings we will occupy in 2050 have already been built, making it a challenge to meet our carbon emission targets. But the COP 22 – Marrakech Climate Change Conference and looking at climate change, CO2 emissions and the built environment should help raise the profile of the topic.

Sarah added that clear air and access to daylight has a “positive impact” on any workforce, essential when staff costs contribute towards 90 per cent of company operational costs. She went to say that buildings are not performing as they should be and asked if performance outcomes and setting targets would change this? Sarah challenged the audience, suggesting it was down to them to deliver such change. She went on to introduce the morning’s speakers.

The first speaker was Lynne Ceeney, BSRIA’s new Technical Director, who gave a wellbeing overview to set the scene: “the what, the who and the why”: to pose questions of the future industry direction.

She said that while wellbeing is a “hot topic” there is no universally-accepted definition for it and that, in part, this is because wellbeing is dependent on context and task. It is probably easier to understand the opposite: people are often able to articulate what is stopping them from feeling great, but find it harder to say what is giving them a sense of wellbeing.

Wellbeing could be applied both at home and at work and indeed these situations overlapped. What is clear is that workers are more resilient and productive and cost employers less when they have a good sense of wellbeing: “in essence where you work and how you feel is important”.

Lynne cited the management theory of Abraham Maslow, who is famous for his theoretical pyramid. His research, published in 1943, posited that human beings have five types of  need to reach their full potential to not only survive but to thrive – with self-fulfilment at the top, psychological in the middle and basic needs at the base.

Which lead Lynne to an interesting point: namely it is not enough to remove the negative: we have to go beyond “do no harm” with our buildings to “do good”. Specifically: hygiene factors: cause dissatisfaction and need to be minimised or removed while motivation factors: need to be added or improved to get the best from workers. Lynne said: “It is not enough to do one without the other – one must do good.”

Lynne gave three main strands to wellbeing:

  • Physical (to do with the body).
  • Functional (related to tasks).
  • Psychological (related to the mind).

The first of these is measurable, and so should be the easiest, and yet we still get it wrong. The functional aspect is becoming more complex as we demand more flexibility and the work life boundary is becoming more fuzzy. We are also becoming more aware of the psychological aspects of wellbeing, as we are increasingly health conscious and recognise the importance of access to nature.

Despite some interesting case studies in wellbeing best practice, she suggested that wellbeing standards are generally seen as setting the maximum levels to be achieved, rather than the minimum and that there is still a hesitancy to change.

Lynne gave an example of a printed media story where, last winter, 55 airtight homes were tested for minimum ventilation provisions and only two fully met the guidance in Approved Document F (building regulations on ventilation). Added to this is the “thorny perpetual question of the performance gap”.

She continued: “We can talk theoretically about the demands of clients and the case for wellbeing, but we still have a journey to make in terms of improving design, improving build quality and improving the way we collaborate across the supply chain and break down our silos. We also need to learn from things that don’t work, not hide them.” 

She said that BSRIA believes Soft Landings can help – where talking to the end customer and the organisations who will own or lease the buildings helps. To encourage them to require Soft Landings as part of their procurement process, Lynne believes they need to be more involved from the beginning of the design and construction process, “not just picking up whatever comes out at the end”. Investor interest suggests there is growing agreement with this.

Specifically regarding building temperature, Lynne said that there was no “magic setting” to suit everyone: “You can’t please everyone all of the time! And of course women feel the cold more than men!” People are not lab rats, they vary, Schrodingers cat effect (being watched or being aware of monitoring or an experiment changes the outcome). There is no substitute for tuning a building, and equally providing flexibility and user controls. Hotels were notorious for “standard settings”: there is no “magic bullet” and substitute for fine tuning.

In relation to the workforce, expectations of generation Z millennials are quite different to generation X – and the modern office will need to accommodate both. The Lendlease example – when employees were forced to take the stairs, they have to pass each other and have to be active and – especially interactive – with colleagues from other departments. “Beware of the chair – sitting is the new smoking!” Flexibility is clearly the key: with millennials choosing to work off their laptops in coffee houses and those with childcare considerations working in shifts.

Access to nature could be external access, indoor plants, views, images, or even soundscapes – waterfall noises and waves on a beach. And playfulness – which ranges from the beanbag and ‘executive toys’ to Google's headquarters in Zurich which has a massage room, aquarium and a slide to deliver engineers smoothly and quickly to the canteen!

Deloitte's Amsterdam office was designed with one empty room on each floor for employees to put what they wanted in them: most have gone for games such as table football. At LinkedIn's Californian HQ there is a music room, stocked with keyboards, drums, guitars and audio equipment.

All of this is about motivating people, making the workplace an attractive place to be, promoting interaction and collaboration but needs “user tuning”.

Lynne closed by saying that the cost efficient way is to provide a good supply of buildings that promote wellbeing for their occupants. BSRIA’s purpose is making buildings better: “We are about helping our members and the industry to achieve this virtuous triangle through our research, testing, training and information sharing. We invite all of you to collaborate with us to speed the journey.”

Professor Paul Cullinan, Honorary Consultant in Respiratory Medicine at the Royal Brompton Hospital, presented a contrasting angle on the subject with his presentation entitled: building health and ill-health. His work focuses on respiratory diseases resulting from environmental influences, and he has co-authored a publication about the lifelong impact of pollution: Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of pollution – what it means for you (February 2016).

He started by outlining key indoor pollutants:

  • CO and CO2 – from combustion appliances, open fires and burned materials or products and faulty or poorly maintained gas heaters and boilers.
  • Formaldehyde – from composite wood furniture and fittings, fabric, glues and urea-formaldehyde foam insulation.
  • Ultra-fine particles – from combustion appliances and cooking.
  • Phthalates – from plastic materials.
  • Radon – (a radioactive gas) – from soil or bedrock and building stone.
  • And went on to highlight four different levels of condition:
  • Disease.
  • Sickness.
  • Illness.
  • Wellbeing.

These conditions can include very serious and well-known diseases, such as asbestosis, through to those that are “medically unexplained”.

He advocated the word (sick) “syndrome” is not one that medical professionals like, and that “most people” are experiencing at least some of the symptoms associated with conditions such as sick building syndrome constantly.

Many such syndromes are culturally specific, seen in some areas and not others despite similar circumstances, and appearing and disappearing with no apparent understandable cause. That is not to say that these conditions are not real or serious, simply that many of them are not allergic reactions and so are difficult to understand.

He also pointed to the unexpected effects of some goodhearted interventions, naming the use of disinfectants in dehumidifiers, which has resulted in lung disease in some parts of the world, and the phasing out of VOC (volatile organic compound) paints in favour of water-based paints. These he suggested where breeding grounds for bugs and so include biocides that can cause serious reactions in some people.

Temperature plays a big part: those who work as bakers or in extreme heat in Dubai are at risk – along with those who constantly work in the cold – such as in supermarkets and warehouses.

Professor Cullinan gave a salutary warning and specifically spoke about the ‘Kew cough’ (humidifier fever) which was a two-stage investigation into an influenza-like illness that had occurred among the staff at the Public Records Office in Kew in March 1984. Similar but milder symptoms had been recognised since the opening of the building in 1977 and had always been attributed to the AC system. The increase in the severity of the symptoms coincided with major repair and maintenance work on the humidifier and chiller units.

Environmental and immunological investigations showed contamination of the water in the humidifier reservoirs by a variety of micro-organisms: improvement was recognised after cleaning and maintenance had been completed to a revised schedule.

As a parting salvo, Professor Cullinan said that: “people should work in decent surroundings; quite a lot of this is common sense; but no measures to improve IAQ can compensate for work that is soul destroying”.

And gave a quote from Voltaire: “The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature takes its course.”

Nicola Gillen, European Practice Lead for Strategy Plus, AECOM, kicked off by highlighting AECOM’s 40 year study into the future of with a focus on “real life” problems.

She said for the first time in history there are four generations in the workplace, and that surprisingly, it is the youngest and the oldest of these generations that have the most in common. This is down to these age groups not having the burden or worries of mortgages, children, other financial pressures and, as such, a level of independence. The middle generation, unfortunately, suffer these woes.

All these generations are working together “in the round” rather than as a “linear thing”.

Wellbeing, she suggested, emerged with generation X and generation Y, and the realisation that the whole person comes to work, not just the working part, but that companies are not good at recognising this or responding to it. Generation X were interested in the “work life balance” and generation Y the “work life blend” but were more concerned with their “ringing phone demanding attention”. Baby boomers “did not want to talk about it”. While millennials ask: “What are you going to do for me?”

Nicola gave some statistics:

  • 81 per cent of senior business people feel that flexible working improves productivity.
  • 45 per cent of UK professionals work outside their main office for more than half the week.
  • 9.9 million working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the UK in 2014/15.
  • 15 per cent increase in wellbeing and creativity when exposed to greenery and sunlight at work.
  • 10-25 per cent improvement in employee performance when daylight is available.

She presented a number of case studies of workplaces that had been developed or transformed specifically to improve wellbeing, and presented evidence that this had increased the productivity of staff.

These included: changes to the offices of the National Grid, which cognitive testing suggested had improved performance by eight per cent; Esteé Lauder’s attractive offices intended to attract millennials, with healthy menus (no “beige food”), on-site nutritionalists; spaces for yoga and pilates and summer hours – namely an early finish on Fridays; and Rolls Royce's offices, where considerable effort has been made to encourage staff to move more and to interact: use of the stairs is encouraged to force both better fitness and company interaction. Sit / stand desks are becoming more popular to assist with personal mobility and fitness and executives have open plan offices to enhance approachability.

When aligning the workspace to programmes of change and rebranding with holistic change programmes – with facilities, real estate and end users – this creates an environment for “attraction and retention”. Internally: I. T. and H. R. departments can foster such change.

Specific company benefits are immense: considerable cash savings can be made per annum with a better working environment in operating costs. And energy usage can be reduced.

Ben Roberts, Senior Mechanical Engineer, Hoare Lea & Partners, presented on: project teams – enabling wellbeing – and started by giving a utopian vision of a tech-enabled future. He suggested that delivering wellbeing as part of this idea would be complicated and would need a much higher level understanding of people since it didn’t fit into specific categories.

Research into the future of project teams he said suggests a likely shift to spending less time on detailed design, and more in the early stages and in post occupancy evaluation which covered the life of a building in full operational use – being used by the employees. In this respect, research from said project teams would be central.

There would be new roles, and a need to participate with wider disciplines and other industries. The sheer bulk of data available to analyse and understand means computers will have to be considered members of the project team. Ben said: “One day technology could replace all of our jobs, but we should never be confined by software.”

In this respect, project teams that enable wellbeing include: a core team with changing roles; environmental psychologists; computers; generative design optimisation; 3D printers; some robots and collaborating with others beyond the building team. Tablets would indeed replace drawings and thus “push the boundaries and change what we do”. Ben said we should certainly embrace these things.

He added that we will also have to develop a better understanding of the interactions between the buildings we design, the environment and their surroundings. People should always drive the process especially with smart cities (which covers whole lifecycle involvement).

Such change, he suggested, will require different skills, and greater technical capability. But, Ben said that “learning new skills should always be encouraged”.

Indeed, the skills needed for the future include: generative design or optimisation; scripting and programming; immersive technologies; instant feedback on design decisions; robots and 3D printing; cloud processing; blockchain and the ability to work from anywhere.

He articulated that lifecycle and in-use requires: engineers involved post-occupancy; optimising building performance; informing early design; collaboration throughout and learning from real building data.

Ben wrapped up by giving some food for thought and asked if in the future we would be living in organic forests, using banana skins for clothes, drinking out of coconut shells and working from treehouse cafes?

Matthew Webster, Head of Wellbeing and Futureproofing, British Land, spoke about delivering places not buildings – ‘creating places people prefer’.

He said that the characteristic operating costs of a company consist of one per cent energy costs, nine per cent rent and 90 per cent staff costs.

Indeed, if staff are happy, believe they are also more productive. Wellbeing can reduce total occupancy costs: Nestle believes absenteeism accounts for 2.5 per cent of payroll.

Matthew introduced the audience to the word ‘Eudaimonia’, or ‘human flourishing’ – and how we reach our full potential when we are happy, healthy, wealthy, respected and thriving – and explained British Land’s focus on wellbeing and placemaking as being “customer focused”. He suggested this is likely to become even more of a focus with the emergence of wearable technology that can tell users, not only where they have been and who they have met, but also what the air quality was and what their exposure to UV has been.

He gave a handful of case studies, and introduced the workplace concept “convene to collaborate, isolate to concentrate” and the concept of “sticky streets” designed to slow people down, encourage them to stay and to engage with their surroundings.

Certainly, wellbeing promotes places that promote health, improve productivity and increase enjoyment: especially public realms that encourage and entice pedestrian traffic also attract and hold customers, increase dwell time, encourage return visits and increase customer loyalty.

Matthew explained that shapes and materials matter: neuroscientists said that sharp angles and blank walls trigger feelings of fear and aversion while rounded shapes and nature – calm us down and cheer us up!

People are attracted to novelty and new sights and sounds that surprise and delight us (without triggering fear). Public art and leisure attractions that draw people to places through more hours of the day. And most of us experience our greatest moments of joy when interacting with other people.

He asked if we had noticed the different sounds as you “move from our new timber flooring, to the porcelain tiling, the natural lino and onto carpet”? Can you spot the variety of visual and textural elements in each room, from different fabrics and colours, to changes in shapes and heights, and our rotating display of artworks?

Physical movement also has to be considered as an integral part of the workplace: “away with printers at desks, away with lunch at the desk, in fact away with the desk!”. What if we no longer had a fixed office or cubicle, but instead every staff member, at every level, had many choices of where to sit and how to work every day and throughout the day, based on the nature of the task.

It is clear today that there is not one ideal environment for work. The optimum work environment changes across the day and across the week to support changing needs and give people control and choice of how and where they work.

Clients, partners and other visitors play their part in the day-to-day experience of any building, too: collaboration at every level (figuratively and literally).

In summary: a clutter free workspace was the way forward but this would take “a leap of faith”.

Julia Evans closed the morning and thanked the panel of speakers and the chair. She reminded the audience of the challenge of the link between the built and natural environment and how the two had become “divorced”.

She said that: “the move to a modern and polluted age must bring these two strands together and as an industry we have the knowledge to do this. The equation can work and I will remind you of this – this is what BSRIA does – to think every day of the big issues and questions”.

The audience go away with more questions than one came in with!

The afternoon keynote speaker was Rt Hon Lord (Paddy) Ashdown GCMG CH KBE PC, who took to the stage by saying that “he would learn more from the audience than them from him!”. He went on to say that the built environment was a great industry to work in but that “we live in serious times”. On this very note, an unashamedly melancholy account of a post-Brexit, President Trump world was given which amounted to a “watershed of our time”. They were both isolated events but shocking conclusions had been clearly reached: there was a “public convulsion” for the second time in one year with much anger and division. And indeed revolution and revolts.

Lord Ashdown said that “these were turbulent times: things were so bad that you couldn’t make them any worse. It was time now to shake things up”. But he continued to claim that he remained an optimist and that one had to “stand up and argue”. He suggested that 70 years of western liberal values and consensus was coming to an end and that “the hard knock of reality” and “sharp corners” had been knocked off: one must deal with “what is rather than “what could be”.

He even suggested that the UK could “find a way back into the EU and snuggle up to them?” to combat any loneliness after the US election. Indeed, tariff barriers and global trade deals had to be considered more than ever now. He added that we had “moved away from the politics of ‘together’ into the politics of identity and exceptionalism”. He suggested that the free movement of goods, services and people was about to change. Although he did admit that the EU was currently a “cockpit of tension”.

Lord Ashdown’s valedictory comment was that he wasn’t sure where this left the UK’s relationship with China but repeated the old Chinese saying “may you be condemned to live in interesting times”.

Julia Evans closed the event with thanks to all the sponsors – especially Trend – delegates in attendance and the announcement that the Briefing would be returning “bigger and better” next year in November.

A big thank you went to the speakers who gave their time to the event. And to the audience and BSRIA members for making the event an energetic debate. Last but not least, to Lord Ashdown for his input and broader political output and rounding up a fantastic Briefing.

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