Jun 29, 2021 - Economy

Co-working spaces prioritize "wellness" as well as WiFi

Conference table made of a fallen tree and a wall covered with preserved moss

A conference table at The Ring in Clearwater, Florida. Photo: Kim Hart / Axios

CLEARWATER, Florida — A co-working space called The Ring is taking the healthy workplace concept up a notch.

Why it matters: As people return to work after the pandemic, some office spaces are betting that workers would prefer to spend their days in health-conscious spaces.

What they're saying: "Our goal is to be the world's healthiest co-working space," says Christopher Murphy, community manager at The Ring, which occupies two floors of an 11-floor building in downtown Clearwater.

  • The co-working space is aiming to get a WELL Certification, a relatively new standard that certifies buildings for prioritizing occupants' well-being through core areas such as air, water, light, nourishment and fitness.

Details: Conference rooms and elevator banks all have plants — living or preserved moss and hanging ferns — to filter the air. Murray claims the air quality is higher than what you'd find in most hospitals.

  • To keep the air fresh in individual offices, occupants must use trash cans and printers in common areas. A specialized ventilation system immediately whisks away the air in the communal "printing room" when a print job is done, removing harmful chemicals from the air.
  • Rooms are equipped with special lighting designed to reinforce occupants' circadian rhythms. Natural light pours in through large windows. Cork walls absorb excess sound.
  • Aromatherapy is optional, and a napping pod is a popular feature.

How it works: Think of the WELL Certification as an extension of the LEED Certification for environmentally sustainable buildings.

  • While LEED is a set of standards supporting the buildings and spaces within them, WELL is a set of standards supporting the overall health and well-being of the people who use the spaces.
  • Although the two sets of standards were developed by different organizations, credentials for both programs are governed by the Green Building Certification Inc.

The big picture: Focusing on employees' health is not new, but COVID-19 has placed more emphasis on it.

  • This is especially true as companies reevaluate the type and size of office spaces they'll need in a hybrid-work structure, said Cynthia Townsend, one of the few registered interior designers who has a WELL accreditation in the Tampa Bay area.
  • "Organizations see a return on their investments through increased employee engagement and productivity," said Townsend, who is not affiliated with The Ring.

Bottom line: To convince white-collar workers to choose an office over their home, companies will need to entice them with increased wellness amenities in whatever spaces workers will gather.

  • While the improvements, like a brand new ventilation system, can be pricey, designers say it can pay dividends in giving workers one more reason to be in a collaborative environment with colleagues.
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