Are you WELL-versed? Why the health and wellbeing of future occupants is a factor for property developers and landlords

As lockdowns lift and vaccines go viral, business bosses seem split on precisely what the post-pandemic world of work will – or should – look like.

Facebook’s assertion that remaining remote is “the future” has attracted plenty of likes, with a number of companies planning permanent changes to working patterns accordingly.

Global law firm Dentons, for example, will allow its staff in the UK, Ireland and Middle East to choose where they log in on a daily basis and HSBC and JP Morgan have announced that thousands of employees may work from home full-time.

On the other side of the fence, however, are those rallying for a rapid return to the office and the reinstatement of past practices. Among them is David Solomon, chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, who has shunned suggestions that disparate teams are tenable in the long-term.

The investment banker believes home working is not conducive to his company’s “collaborative apprenticeship culture” and described the notion that doing so will become a new normal as “an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible”.

Similarly, the Canary Wharf Group – the developer behind circa 7.5 million square feet of the capital’s office space – is predicting a dramatic increase in returnees as those in the financial sector seek to scratch the itch of office and city-centre life.

For the majority, of course, the most probable legacy of social distancing will be one of compromise. Fatigued by online meetings and staring at the same four walls but grateful for being spared the stresses and expense of daily commutes, a balance is likely to be struck between time in the workplace and home.

Regardless of the ultimate demand for desk space in offices, there will undoubtedly be greater scrutiny applied to working environments with people having grown accustomed to home comforts.

Companies courting a full complement of staff and intent on retaining the best talent will need to be more conscious than ever before of the benefits buildings can bring to their occupants.

For property developers and landlords in the UK, such a shift in thinking is set to accelerate the embrace of – and tenants’ appetite for – the WELL Building Standard.

The performance-based system, which was launched in 2014 and promotes placing people’s health and wellbeing at the centre of design, has already established itself as part of the US construction landscape and certification is now beginning to pique the interest of C-suite executives this side of the Pond.

From a company perspective, taking an holistic approach to health in the built-environment and striving to improve the nutrition, fitness, mood and performance of occupants makes perfect sense.

Aside from being a big tick in respect of corporate social responsibility, it is well proven that a happy workforce is a more productive one. Furthermore, an energetic and active staff should deliver savings by lowering absenteeism as a consequence of stress and sickness, and certification will act as a beacon for attracting potential employees keen to work for organisations that make a demonstrable investment in their people.

For land and building owners, the advantages are less apparent and enthusiasm to sign up for a scheme that entails re-certification every three years is understandably muted.

WELL is a particularly hard sell in respect of existing city centre properties where change – no matter how valid – is difficult to implement given space and legacy constraints.

So why should developers give a second thought to the future fitness and dietary requirements of their tenants of tomorrow? Put simply, in a competitive market, a WELL certificate represents another selling point.

Although commercial property agents do not yet have a firm feel for the impact attaining an award from the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) has on the health of letting values, being more marketable can do no harm to long-term returns.

Indeed, pragmatic planning can pay dividends if it attracts the right clients. Large blue-chip companies have long been switched on to supplying their people with innovative places to work and have few qualms about paying a premium to secure such locations.

In large, multi-tenancy buildings and commercial complexes, attracting such an occupant can serve as a positive multiplier with like-minded firms keen to be in the vicinity of perceived trailblazers.

WELL may represent unknown territory for UK landlords but navigating its seven assessed features – relating to air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind – becomes far easier with an experienced guide.

And as chartered surveyors and project managers committed to supporting excellence in sustainable design and with a firm understanding of a building’s life cycle and costs, the team at HartDixon have the necessary expertise to assist project owners in exploring – and if deemed suitable – conquering certification.

When engaged early we can help build the right team to deliver the desired outcome, be it silver, gold or platinum accreditation, and ensure everyone involved is signed up to IWBI’s vision of creating “buildings and communities in ways that help people thrive”.

Just as WELL’s illumination guidelines serve to eliminate eyestrain and headaches, having HartDixon shine a light on the scheme’s processes is guaranteed to soothe the stresses traditionally associated with such assessments.