Healthy buildings make commercial sense as occupiers return to offices. With investment values underpinned by the successful return to work of occupiers and their staff, property managers and building owners must make workplaces a safe and attractive place for returning occupiers.

Here, we evaluate the commercial case for healthy workplaces, and how they are best delivered.

In the wake of the pandemic, the symbiotic relationship between the wellbeing of occupiers and the value of real estate assets is clearer than ever. The increased interest in health and wellbeing, not only from occupiers, but also from the real estate industry, cements the fact that wellbeing is becoming central to development and investment strategies.

Employees who are productive, healthy, and engaged are best-placed to support high-performing companies, which in turn help fund managers realise and maximise the potential value of real estate assets and services.

As outlined in the Better Building’s Partnership’s recently published Responsible Property Management Toolkit, improving health and wellbeing has the potential to make a positive financial contribution for occupiers through a reduction in the direct, and indirect, costs of absence and presenteeism. In turn, properties with strong health and wellbeing credentials also have potential to attract greater value. In challenging times, such as during the Covid-19 pandemic, these properties can also better retain value.

Certification leads to increased asset value

Buildings certified as healthy attract rents between 4.4% and 7.7% more per sq. ft than their nearby non-certified peers, according to ‘The Financial Impact of Healthy Buildings’, research conducted in December 2020 by the MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab. The increased financial value of buildings certified by schemes such as Fitwel or WELL, is independent of all other factors, including building age, renovation, or lease duration, says the report.

Healthy buildings are perceived as an asset associated with occupier wellbeing and productivity, further enhancing their value to operating businesses. And as companies seek to attract top talent, wellbeing is increasingly prioritised as a fundamental pillar of the ESG strategy. As occupiers return and the world reopens after the pandemic, health and wellbeing has become a core component of the overall ESG framework within which commercial buildings are assessed, meaning investors need to deliver health and wellbeing as part of their overall ESG strategy.

Occupiers are looking closely at workspaces they provide, as well as how the workplace can help communicate their company’s values and build a culture of health. As asset managers, fund managers and property managers all prepare for a new normal, occupier engagement is centre stage for employers and investors alike.

The new significance of indoor air quality

The physical characteristics and operational practices within buildings have always exerted significant influence on the health and wellbeing of occupiers. Even prior to the pandemic, the modern workforce expected many features of health and wellbeing to be included in their place of work as standard. This ranged from building design, lighting, and amount of amenity space to the provision of water, quality food services, fitness activities, and of course, indoor air quality, which has taken on new significance as a direct result of Covid.

Ventilation plays a critical role in protecting health and has emerged as particularly important in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, ventilation has been highlighted by University of Cambridge researchers as an essential way of reducing impacts and the spread of the disease.

Today, employees want to be reassured that the buildings and indoor spaces they return to are safe. Indoor air quality requires real-time monitoring and control, actionable insights, and transparency, which can be delivered through technology such as our Intelligent Building Operating System, IBOS.

Several benchmarking and certification standards, such as WELL and Fitwel, have been developed to measure and quantify health and wellbeing provision. The inclusion of health & wellbeing within the GRESB benchmark is also driving the adoption of high standards among institutional investors seeking global leadership and market differentiation opportunities.

Workman’s Wellbeing Asset Plans

With extensive experience and an expansive practical knowledge base at their fingertips, our experts help clients to make sense of the complex health and wellbeing landscape. At Workman, our teams develop effective asset-specific plans to deliver a comprehensive health and wellbeing offering.

As part of our commitment to create an outstanding customer experience for occupiers, we seek opportunities to create environments where occupiers want to stay, as a result of their staff being in a healthy and productive environment.

Through our Wellbeing Asset Plans, our experts identify and implement health & wellbeing opportunities suitable to each asset and the specific requirements of its occupiers. Initiatives vary from simple schemes such as running clubs, workshops and seminars to larger-scale initiatives such as installing gyms or specialist cycle storage facilities.

To demonstrate the quality of environments their assets offer occupiers, staff and visitors, our experts are advising a growing number of clients to achieve Fitwel certification, “a data-driven certification system which aims to optimise buildings to support occupant health and wellbeing”. The process includes a desktop analysis of the current position of the asset, breaking down initiatives by cost and ease to implement, to ensure clients can see likely outcomes prior to commencement. The process is fully managed from start to certification.

While Workman can drive standards to meet this certification, our experts can also create Wellbeing Asset Plans based on the same principles, even where certification is not the preferred outcome. The creation and implementation of Wellbeing Asset Plans is led by our dedicated ESG team, who are experienced in working with investors, occupiers, suppliers and other stakeholders to create environments that promote health & wellbeing for all. As members of the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) Managing Agents Partnership and ISO:14001 accredited, we share an ongoing commitment to the sustainable management of real estate, which we combine with practical advice and implementation.