Facility managers maintain the office building and its equipment. As they manage office layout and furniture arrangements, they directly impact each employee’s health.
“Facility managers control critical aspects of the workplace environment, such as temperature settings, the lighting, and noise levels,” explains Bryan Kelley, co-founder and CEO of Laser Facility Management. “Fresh air, good ventilation systems, and natural lighting are all factors that reduce employee stress levels during long hours at work. All these responsibilities and many more fall under the purview of facilities management.”
However, facility managers do not have complete sway over every issue impacting employee safety and health in the workplace. “Even if a business is leasing their space, it’s best practice for facility management professionals to provide proactive feedback on existing systems,” Kelley says. “Facility managers have to run their ideas for internal designs through the workplace’s real estate, leasing/legal, and operations managers. Externally, they have to collaborate with landlords and work under leasing contracts to ensure seamless and expert maintenance and repairs. No matter what designs are being made or where, their top priority is always the safety, security, and health of the company’s employees.”
To minimize the risk of accidents and injuries in the workplace, facility managers conduct thorough site risk assessment analyses — first accessing the space, then annually. As Kelley explains, these assessments should be conducted more frequently as the facility ages.
1. Add sit-to-stand desks to work areas
Sit-to-stand desks are adjustable in height. They allow people who work in open-plan offices or cubicles where space is limited to choose between a sitting or standing workspace without taking up extra floor space.
“Sitting for long periods can be harmful to your health,” says Kelley. “Adding sit-to-stand desks allows employees to move around more often throughout the workday. With these types of desks, your employees can experience increased energy, heightened focus, and improved posture.”
2. Invest in ergonomic furniture
Ergonomic furniture is designed to support the body and reduce strain. “As a facility manager, you know that having the right furniture makes all the difference in terms of employee productivity and satisfaction,” Kelley notes, “so incorporate a variety of seating options that accommodate multiple needs. This ensures employees are comfortable at their desk and able to work efficiently throughout their shift.”
Good-quality ergonomic chairs can better support employees’ backs and keep them straight to help prevent muscle and joint strain. Additionally, their seats are soft yet firm, and adjustable armrests allow users to customize their workspace based on height and weight.
“Your employees use the furniture you provide for hours every day,” Kelley remarks. “Ergonomic furniture is not only more comfortable in the moment, but in the long run, it prevents back and neck pain. It’s absolutely worth the investment.”
3. Maintain pleasant temperatures and proper ventilation throughout the office
“To create a healthy workplace, it’s important for you and your employees to have fresh air and pleasant temperatures in the office,” says Kelley. “It’s essential to ensure adequate ventilation in rooms where people spend most of their time and regularly clean the air vents.”
To provide reliable and constant ventilation, facility managers adopt proactive maintenance routing for critical equipment, such as commercial HVAC systems. Rather than waiting until equipment breaks to call for a technician, they perform preventative maintenance, schedule regular inspections, and frequently test equipment.
“Employees spend a large portion of their lives in the workplace you create for them,” Kelley explains. “A comfortable work environment makes them feel appreciated and valued, and temperature is a major part of that equation. Keep your thermostat set at a comfortable range so that no one feels too hot or cold while working.”
4. Design office layouts that encourage social interaction
Social interaction during the workday impacts every employee’s overall health and well-being. After all, a strong sense of community in a workplace’s culture helps boost mental well-being, work performance, and employee retention. Employees with strong social lives are happier, healthier, and more productive at work, and are less likely to leave their jobs if they feel they belong.
“As a facilities manager, you create this sense of community within your organization with an office layout conducive to collaboration,” advises Kelley. “Make it easy for people to connect with one another through additions such as an inviting breakroom where your employees can eat lunch, a water cooler and snack bar, or a place for employees to take walking breaks together.”
5. Incorporate energy-efficient and natural lighting to brighten the workplace
There is a reason the stereotypical boss has a corner office with floor-to-ceiling windows — natural lighting is essential for a positive and productive workday. Facilities managers can help improve employee health by brightening the workplace with natural light wherever possible.
In spaces where natural light does not reach, facilities managers can increase employee health with bulbs that mimic natural lighting, such as LEDs, as bulbs with a color temperature of 3000K or less are ideal. The addition of good lighting throughout the workplace reduces eye strain and fatigue, especially for employees who undergo prolonged periods of screen time.
“Light is one of the most crucial elements to consider in a healthy workplace,” adds Kelley. “Identify which areas of the office need additional lighting and how much is needed to brighten the spaces far from windows or skylights.”
6. Add biophilic elements to the workplace
Biophilic design is a concept proven to improve employee happiness and reduce stress. Biophilia means “love of life” and refers to the innate connection people share with nature.
“When we interact with nature, we feel better physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually,” says Kelley. “Bringing the outdoors indoors by adding plants or fountains creates an overall more positive work environment.”
As facilities managers introduce greenery, maintain proper ventilation, and assess lighting conditions, they are on the front lines of healthier work environments. Their decisions are key to workplace changes, office design, and furniture purchases that promote the physical and mental well-being of the organization’s entire staff.
However, Kelley mentions that employees should also play a role in helping to create a healthier workplace. “Employees need to be involved in building a more health-conscious environment at work,” explains Kelley. “They are a valuable resource, and as a facility manager, you have the power to make a real difference in your workplace. Listen to what employees say about their health, then act on it.”