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Will the idea of ‘wellness’ catch on in Asian workplaces?

JLL Real Views, 07 Oct 2015 - Given that we spend most of our hours in the office, our workplace environment has a significant impact on our physical and mental health.

Marrying health and wellness with design, the WELL Building Standard is catching on fast in the West, but the trend is just starting to take off in Asia.

Designed to measure, monitor and certify the ‘wellness’ of a workplace environment, it considers seven key concepts:

  • Air, Water and Nourishment look at the quality of these three important physical health considerations
  • Natural Light helps minimise disruption to the body’s circadian rhythms to normalise sleep patterns
  • A WELL building maximises Fitness by encouraging exercise at work
  • The concepts of Comfort and Mind are concerned with our emotional and mental health

So why does it matter?

“Across Asia – renowned for its long working hours, war for talent and increasingly serious air pollution problems – the need to focus on health and well-being is even more pronounced,” says Matthew Clifford, Head of JLL’s North Asia Energy and Sustainability Services.

According to research presented at a WELL workshop, 94 per cent of businesses that adopt WELL standards report a positive impact on their business performance, and 83 per cent of employees feel more productive in a WELL environment.

And while Clifford agrees that a WELL work environment has value, he cautions that statistics have little meaning at this early stage of development since they cannot be proved.

What matters at this point is what the WELL Building Standard says to employees. It tells them that their employer takes their health and emotional well-being seriously.

WELL and green buildings in Asia

The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) is in the process of setting up an office in Hong Kong. In March, the IWBI in conjunction with the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) also formally introduced the WELL Building Standard to China. Following that, workshops were held in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Shenzhen.

It’s no accident that WELL teamed up with GBCI – WELL buildings go hand in hand with sustainable buildings. The Lei Shing Hong Plaza in Beijing is a case in point. JLL worked with the developer to achieve LEED-EB (Existing Buildings) Gold certification. The developer, LSH Property, did this to improve the quality of the indoor environment, but also to increase tenants’ satisfaction.

LEED is based on mechanical systems that increase energy efficiency and improve air quality. In China, air quality is “a tangible problem because the outdoor air quality is so bad,” says Clifford. “Clients ask us about air-filtration systems because they want to know the indoor air quality of their offices will be good. Air quality can be measured and tested.”

WELL is less tangible, but “it passes the gut test,” explains Clifford. “It seems like the right idea.”

Air quality and natural light

Unlike green buildings, which must be built using sustainable principles and technology, a WELL building requires only some of the elements of a green building. The air quality must be good and natural light must be available, but much of a WELL interior can be designed and installed by the landlord or tenant.

So far, the Haworth Head Office in Shanghai is the only project in China that intends to seek WELL Pilot Certification, but the program is still in its infancy. Time will tell if WELL becomes a widespread trend or if businesses adopt only aspects of WELL standards. In the meantime, LEED and similar green initiatives are a definite trend throughout Asia, and any business committed to a green environment could well consider WELL office space.

“It took LEED 10 years to be adopted in China,” says Clifford. “WELL will also grow incrementally. The first generation of adopters will iron out the knots and lead the way for the second generation.”

Whether this leads to adoption by companies is still a matter of conjecture, but Clifford points out that a recent poll reveals that “health and well-being is the fastest-growing consumer trend in the world”.

As consumers are also workers, it means a new generation of workers is looking for a healthier working environment, and the brightest young talents are increasingly making this part of their criteria for accepting a job.


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