Culture and Wellness in the (Small) Workplace

November 29, 2017 | | View Comments

By Felice Silverman, Principal, Silverman Trykowski Associates

There’s a lot of buzz about wellness and culture in the workplace these days, and for good reason–after all, as designers, our primary mission should be to create environments that bring a positive impact, both physically and psychologically, to every person by creating spaces that make people happy, allow them to excel and be productive, and to foster relationships among others. To me, the concepts of wellness and culture are inextricably linked. You cannot have a well space without a strong culture, and you cannot have a strong culture without caring about the wellness of people.

As wellness and culture become even stronger focus areas for designers and our clients, strategies have emerged around active design principles, healthy food service options, corporate sponsored fitness programs, tracking and monitoring technology, and more. Many of the solutions are geared toward large corporations with ample space (and dollars!). But how can a small company bring the ideas of wellness and culture into their workplace?  Small companies may not have the space or resources to dedicate to major undertakings, but the principles are as relevant whether for a 2 person or 2000 person firm.

As a Principal with Silverman Trykowski Associates, I recently had the opportunity to put these concepts to the test in our own firm.  When STA moved our own offices almost two years ago, wellness and culture were a big part of the design discussion – from site selection, to layout, to furniture selection, down to the food in the kitchen.  

Here are 5 important factors related to wellness and culture, and some ways that STA put these principles into practice:

Share good things with your people

Some of the easiest ways to bring wellness into the workplace, and foster a positive culture, is to provide people with good things that make them comfortable and healthier, and make it as easy as possible for them to be productive and succeed.

At STA, we started by selecting a space flooded with natural light. For individual workspace, based on extensive data regarding health concerns related to prolonged sitting, we provided everyone with height adjustable desks. We’ve noticed that not only are people standing more at their desks, they are also up and moving around the office more than when we had standard desks–increased movement has led to increased collaboration!  

With a weekly delivery of fruit from Boston Organics and an eye on healthy snacks in the cupboard, we try to promote healthy eating. Organized resources, digital filing, and state of the art technology make individual work, mobility, and collaboration stress-free and easy.  

Build a community

Spaces for people to gather informally are an important part of the design of today’s workplace. At STA, even with our limited footprint, collaborative working spaces were a very deliberate decision in the design of the new space. At one end of our space is a view of the Rose Kennedy Greenway and Boston Harbor. Instead of giving this spot to one individual, this is, and will always be a shared space. This “Living Lab”, our living room, is a place for staff meetings, group lunches, client meetings, project team meetings, alternative workspace, or just a place to look out the window for a change of scenery and mind reset! Everyone is encouraged to use this space at any time.

But creating the physical space is not enough. We’ve all seen special collaborative spaces that never get used. Even in a small group, you have to foster community, and create opportunities for engagement. For example, at STA an important part of our culture is the active engagement of all of our team members with dynamic sharing of information and experiences. Two ways that we foster this include a blog (everyone alternates taking a turn sharing a blog post about an interest, observation, experience) and our weekly living lab (an end of week activity, presentation, tour, or experience led by a different team member every week).

We find that through creating the physical space for interaction and then guiding the engagements, our group gets to know and understand each other as individuals better. This leads to stronger teams and a stronger engagement with the culture of the firm.  The space facilitates the engagement, but the people make it happen.

Think inside and outside the walls

Wellness and culture are not just about the office space itself–where your workplace is, how you get there, and where it fits into your daily routine are equally important to the whole work experience.

At STA, we moved our office from the Seaport area to downtown, with a special bonus of being across the street from the Greenway. This made everyone’s commutes much easier, and several even walk through the Greenway as part of their commute. Just about every day, STA team members have lunch on the Greenway, go for a walk, and enjoy the beautiful landscape. Being downtown, we walk to meetings and site visits, getting in a few more steps! While we may not have the space within our office space to employ significant active design strategies, we take advantage of our “front yard!”

Listen to your people… and adapt

Sometimes the best ideas just don’t work out, and you have to be adaptable to change. In our small office, we enjoy a largely open plan. But, we’ve recently heard feedback that making a private call is challenging. Although there is a closed space, it is a conference room often in use, and it is just not a comfortable space to deal with something personal. We are listening to feedback and exploring phone booth options. It is important to constantly check in with employees and to listen and observe to see if your perception and goals of your culture are reality. In some ways, it may be easier to monitor and foster culture and wellness in a small firm. The community is smaller and the results are more immediate.

Provide choices

Perhaps the most important factor in a positive, healthy culture, is the ability for people to choose how they work, feel in control of their environment, and “make it their own.” Choice of workspace is an important factor in wellness and productivity, and within STA’s small footprint, we have been able to offer a variety of choice.  

The key is to remember that everyone is their own person, and although we are all here together as a team to work together, we have to respect the individuals that make up the team. We provide options for workspace type, food, activities, and more, but we leave it to the individual to decide what works best for them.

The culture of a company has to be cultivated–you can’t just say what your culture is. You have to foster it, and everyone in the company has to feel and embrace it.  

Culture is a dynamic living thing, not static.It may morph and evolve as people join or leave the team, but it should be based on core principles that are key to the company mission. At STA, we’ve been described as a “family.”  To me, this is a successful example that our space is “well,” and our culture is strong!