Engineering Sustainable Office Buildings: Prioritising People over Business

January 25, 2024

Back in March 2020, when huge numbers of workers were forced to vacate their offices and work from home instead, employers thought they were going to have a challenge on their hands when it came to productivity and ensuring that employees were still going to do their jobs without anyone around to look over their shoulders. 

For the most part, they need not have worried. The anecdotal results were that remote work was actually proving to be a success and that many workers preferred it.

The likes of Google and others were even talking about the possibility of their staff working from home forever. While many of these companies working in the knowledge economy have since rowed back on that promise, that’s exactly where the real challenge is right now in late 2023… and for the foreseeable future if we’re all honest. 

Because now that many employers want their workers to return to the office, those workers don’t want to know.

Why do workers not want to go “back to work”?

Let’s rephrase that. Why do workers not want to go back to the office? Well, the plain and simple truth is that for most people, home has become a better workplace environment.

There are indisputable advantages to working at home, like the lack of a commute for a start – 90 minutes or more each way in the car or on the bus or train, versus a 90-second walk to the spare bedroom or garden office. This resulted in a far better work-life balance. There were added health benefits too, even as the shadow of COVID began to recede, with working from home actually resulting in less sick days, with no fear of anyone bringing a stomach bug or a cold into the virtual office.

“Traditional” office environments can impact productivity

What many workers actually discovered was that they were getting more work done at home than they would in the office. When they went to make a cup of tea or coffee, they weren’t getting sucked into impromptu meetings in the corridor or noisy conversations next to them becoming a distraction.

With employers discovering that asking their people politely to come back to the office is not really working, they are now turning to mandates. But with most workplace environments having remained unchanged from since before the pandemic, workers are still doing their best to resist.

What can design do to overcome these challenges?

Granted, there is very little that design can do to eliminate the work commute, or unwanted conversations with colleagues in the kitchen, but design can make the office environment a refreshing alternative to working from home in terms of health and wellbeing. This is especially true when you consider that the last three years have been overshadowed not just by COVID-19, but by rising anxieties around climate change and a concern around how we can collectively reduce our greenhouse gas and carbon emissions.

When designing a building, the most important component is the human being who will inhabit it.

Energy-efficient technologies can increase health and wellbeing and reduce your building’s carbon footprint

In most buildings, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) makes the biggest impact on the environment. New HVAC units are more efficient and use less energy, while modern insulation reduces the amount of energy being allowed to leak outside. More efficient HVAC systems with improved air filtering and ventilation also reduce the risk of the spread of respiratory infections.

Sustainable office design

This is a smart investment for businesses looking to improve employee wellbeing and performance while reducing their environmental impact.

Improved Indoor Air Quality: Natural materials such as wood, stone and even plants improve air quality by filtering out pollutants and toxins.

Reduced Energy Costs: Harnessing more natural light and using more energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems will lead to less money being spent on energy.

Increased Staff Wellbeing: Traditional office spaces often rely on artificial lighting, which can lead to eye strain and headaches. By incorporating more windows and skylights, natural light has been shown to reduce stress levels in employees, increase their productivity, and improve their morale.

Improved Performance: When people work in a space that prioritises their wellbeing, they are more likely to feel valued and motivated. The combination of things like improved air quality, better lighting, and reduced stress levels can lead to a happier, more productive team and enhance employee retention rates.

CSR: Sustainable office design can help businesses to comply with environmental regulations and demonstrate compliance to their stakeholders.

You can learn more by reading our blogpost on The Importance of Energy Efficient Building Design. 

Optimising natural light in office design

Open floor plans and glass partitions can help to increase natural light flow, while reflective surfaces such as mirrors, light-coloured walls, and glossy flooring will help to bounce natural light around the office and make it feel brighter. Light-filtering materials like translucent blinds and frosted glass will also allow natural light to shine through.

Metec Project: Coopers Cross

Sustainability was the key objective for our client on this 500,000 sq ft. commercial project. Our dedication to maximising energy, light and water efficiency coupled with our focus on providing a working environment that puts the people in the building first was acknowledged by Coopers Cross achieving  LEED/BREAAM/WELL/WiredScore certifications and an A-rated BER.

Our Cat A fit-out, which included full mechanical and electrical installation, ensured energy conservation targets were met with the addition of a roof-mounted PV solution, and LEED Platinum-compliant energy metering.

Building information modelling (BIM) helped the Metec team to meet all of our client’s sustainability goals in designing the building’s shell and core. These goals were further met with the installation of a rain and grey water harvesting system.

Our recommendations on internal daylighting requirements ensured an average daylight factor (ADF) of 2% would be achieved on all floors, including the lower ground floors, while ventilation was improved to above normal office building standards

At Metec, we design buildings for people

If you would like to know more about our approach to designing office and commercial spaces that focus on the human in the building and prioritising their health and wellbeing, whether your building be a new development or one in need of refurbishment, get in touch with the team at Metec today or visit the human in the building.

Do you want to read more on “The Human in the Building"? 

Article 2: “The most important component in the design of a building is the human being who will inhabit it”

Article 3: “Taking a human-first approach to building design should be part of your ESG strategy”

If you would like to know more about our approach to designing office and commercial spaces that focus on the human in the building and prioritising their health and wellbeing, whether your building be a new development or one in need of refurbishment, get in touch with the team at Metec today or visit the human in the building.

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