Workplace well-being is now an integral part of many corporate agendas. While a business’s culture and operational practices are crucial to ensuring employees feel safe, healthy and supported, the physical space in which they work can also play an incredibly important role. While well-being initiatives often focus on improving engagement between employees, what about engagement with the environment in which they work?

In just 10 years, the IWBI's WELL Building Standard has grown to become one of the leading building certifications that architects and interior designers to strive to achieve in their work. Sitting alongside LEED and BREEAM, the Standard focuses specifically on enhancing human health and well-being in the built environment, highlighting how a building’s interior can have a profound impact on people’s mental and physical health.


How can the floor enhance workplace well-being?

For those whose workplace is an office environment, the floor of the building is quite literally the physical foundation for everything they do. With the floor and ceiling typically the largest continuous surface in a building, unlike the ceiling, we are constantly in contact with the floor. With carefully consideration, your choice of floor covering can have a positive impact on workplace well-being. Here's how.

1. Quieter, stress-free workspaces

The material you use on the floor will directly impact how sound moves around a space. The noise from people walking, interacting, phones ringing and equipment churning in the office, beyond distracting, can disrupt an employee’s ability to concentrate. This can induce anxiety, stress and ultimately lead to an increase in absenteeism.

As a softer surface, carpet clearly absorbs more sound than a hard floor, however the thickness and material content of that carpet can make a critical difference to the acoustics of a space.

Quality carpet tiles with an integral cushion backing will absorb 50% more noise than a standard hardback carpet and even three times as much as hard surface floors, such as stone, ceramic or wood. Checking a carpet’s Acoustic Values , will allow you to compare how well different products absorb both impact and ambient sound, and therefore reduce noise in a workspace. 

Stress-free workplaces
Poise Retold at Clarasys

Where a natural wood, stone, mineral or concrete look is preferred, today's generation of luxury vinyl tiles (LVT) designed to emulate the aesthetics and textures of these natural products with incredible realism can also be engineered with acoustic enhancements. In addition to their maintenance benefits, some LVT floor coverings with an acoustic layer can absorb impact sound by more than three times that of a standard LVT product. 

First Call - Open Shut LVT at NatWestFirst Call - Open Shut LVT at NatWest

For today’s more open, collaborative work environments, often with exposed ceiling spaces for that ‘raw, industrial look’, the right floor covering can make a vital contribution to keeping a workplace quieter, and more pleasant and productive to work in.


2. More inspiring and comfortable workspaces

Attracting a post-pandemic workforce back into the office has become challenging for many employers. Recruitment has also shifted gears with employers competing for talent and the ‘destination workplace’ now an integral part of the employment package. The continual upgrade of higher education accommodation also raises expectations of our Gen Z graduates as they look for a work environment akin to their university experience.

In our blog ‘How to use the floor to create a more inspiring workplace’, we explore in more detail all the different ways in which floor coverings can be used creatively to design truly inspiring workplaces.

Another trend we are seeing is the way in which workplace styling is developing to become more decorative and homely. In floor coverings, carpet in carefully specified colours, textures and importantly in underfoot comfort, can help create this more domestic, ‘home-from-home’ aesthetic. Commercial carpet products with luxurious cushion backings can deliver this soft underfoot comfort that makes employees feel more nurtured and valued. 

Inspirational Flooring - Tracing Landscapes
Tracing Landscapes - Geography Lesson

Welcoming, comfortable spaces where employees can take time out to relax and socialise as part of their working day is becoming the norm. These spaces featuring higher quality materials and finishes not only raises the bar on how they look but also in how people experience them.

3. Facilitating Agile Spaces

In progressive, agile workspaces, employees are encouraged to move around the office more, to use sit/stand desking and work more collaboratively. In fact, it isn’t unusual to find a workspace with a yoga studio and a playful slide on which to glide down to the floor below!
Agile workspace
Arctic Survey - Shackleton at GenePlanet
Movement is good. With clever, thoughtful use of colour changes, textural shifts and layout, floor coverings can help facilitate that. By providing important visual cues for circulation areas, wayfinding through buildings and zoning spaces, a considered choice of flooring can positively encourage employees to become more active.

Signposting is also key. During the pandemic the floor became the ideal medium for communicating the 2m distancing rule - a perfect example of how modular floor coverings can serve as a means of communicating with employees.

When designing spaces to be more neuro-inclusive, the floor can become an important visual signpost for spaces.  Different floors or different areas of a building can be easily identified, for example, by a particular colour, pattern or type of floor covering.

Ergonomics matter. The flooring choice can also play an important role in ensuring the comfort of a space. A research study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh, shows that carpet with a premium cushion backing decreases muscle strain while standing by up to 24% versus hardback flooring.

4. Naturalistic designs to calm the senses

The workplace interior can have a profound impact on people’s mood, stress levels and ultimately their mental health. Crucial for employee retention, this can also affect an employee’s ability to be feel productive and satisfied in their role.

Biophilic design is now well understood for its positive benefits to our mental health and general well-being. The floor plane can provide the perfect canvas for achieving this where ‘bringing the outside in’ doesn’t have to mean using wood or stone. 

As well as offering a textural dimension, advanced digital colour placement technology in carpet design can mimic the beautiful flowing patterns, organic shapes and smooth colour transitions found in nature. For the work environment, these organic designs and naturalistic colour palettes have been shown to improve cognitive and emotional well-being - perfect for creating calming, relaxing spaces that positively promote a sense of wellness.

Naturalistic Carpet Design
Painted Garden

For LVT floor coverings, referenced earlier, the latest photo-realistic digital design now also means you can achieve the look of natural wood, stone and concrete while enjoying all the practicalities of an LVT product.

5. Creating Healthier Spaces

Indoor Air Quality in the workplace has become a hot topic since COVID entered our lives. For the work environment, this has made organisations and employees more mindful of the importance of good indoor air quality for our health and well-being. 

Unlike hard flooring, carpet actively traps dirt, fine dust and allergens preventing it from circulating in a space. While regular maintenance is of course required to remove dust and dirt, carpet inherently has a significant impact on indoor air quality. Even before the point of entering the workplace, well-designed entry-flooring systems at a building’s front door will significantly reduce any dirt, dust and toxin particulates walked in on an employee’s footwear and clothing.

Inspiring Workplaces
Colour Compositions at ECIJA

Poor office air quality can also be affected by a host of other factors. Badly maintained ventilation systems combined with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by an office’s interior furnishings and finishes is perhaps a less obvious cause. Floor coverings that minimise the VOC off-gassing with low-VOC materials and adhesive-free installation will also go a long way in helping to create healthier workspaces. Our blog SPECIFYING FLOOR COVERINGS FOR OPTIMUM INDOOR AIR QUALITY explores this subject in further detail.

As Deloitte’s latest Well-being at Work survey reveals, many employees are still struggling with unacceptably low levels of well-being, with most reporting that their health had worsened or stayed the same since last year’s survey. As we continue to grapple with how best to engage with employees in the workplace and consider their well-being, one of the answers at least could be right there under our feet.

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