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Guest contributor Amy King shares tips for designing and managing a coworking space focused on the health and wellness of its members.

The Park Coworking

Did you know that according to the EPA, one out of every four new or renovated indoor buildings in the US may be classified as “sick buildings?” Spending too much time in poor working conditions can lead to a range of health problems, including: headaches, nausea, dizziness, irritability, itchy eyes, and respiratory illnesses.

As modern humans, most of us spend 90% of our time indoors. Why not make our workspaces a better experience for our health and well-being? We already know that coworking as a practice provides its members with many benefits. You can help keep your members healthy and productive by incorporating a few of these techniques on designing for health and wellness. This leaves your members with a better work/life balance (and more time to actively engage with their coworking community).

A coworking wellness origin story

I can trace my passion for the intersection of health, wellness, and indoor space back to when I lived in DC and was working out of USGBC’s LEED Platinum certified office. Prior to this, I worked from a cranky historic building. Transitioning to a bright, clean office was a game changer for my physical health, as my pre-existing problems with asthma disappeared. Learning about the benefits of access to daylight, plants, non-toxic furniture, and better air was eye opening. While my physical health saw rapid improvement, my mental health declined. The culture of overwork and pressure and the 24-7 expectations of my job took a real toll on me. I wasn’t practicing self-care. Hitting this low made me rethink my own approach to work. My real epiphany came when I read Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive. In her book, she talked about her own health “crash” and the subsequent push to change the culture of her organization. Having fallen in love with coworking while travelling for work, I knew it was time to open my own space.

So I decided my calling was to share my lessons with the coworking industry and with my local community, hoping this will plant the seeds for wellness and sustainability practices in our member companies. With my partner in crime, Steve Kinder, I’ve co-founded GoodWork at the 1808 building in Dallas. Our goal is for the space to become an incubator for triple bottom line businesses and wellness principles. We’re pursuing both WELL Building and LEED certification to provide a true nutrition label for our building and culture.

Four principles to designing for health and wellness

Hubud Coworking

Focusing on health and wellness when designing your physical space will lead to happier, more engaged members. Here are a few design techniques which encourage a community of health and wellness within your coworking space.

1. Think outside the desk 

One desk doesn’t fly for all types of work. What other types of work areas can you provide that allow people to work in a space that’s right for a specific task?  For example, for those who need to do heads down focused work, provide nooks slightly bigger than phone booths. This gives productivity seekers a dedicated space to get their work done so they don’t feel compelled to hog your meeting rooms.

2. A little green can go a long way

Humans have an instinctive need for connection to nature. Providing indoor plants helps clear the air while also dramatically reducing fatigue, depression and tension. If you have a way to provide members with an outdoor space to get their work done, such as a sun patio or sheltered deck (like Hubud, pictured above), all the better.

3. Ditch the cave

Ensure that all or most of your space has good daylight throughout the day. It will improve the mood and productivity of your members. Use glass office walls or transparent partitions, to ensure that everyone has access to natural light. Views to nature and sky also have a host of physical and mental health benefits.

4. Install a shower

In active cities such as Boulder, CO, it’s common to offer showers for coworking spaces. Showers are an especially great option for coworking spaces who cater to a crowd likely to bike to work. That way, your bike commuters can take a shower once they get to the office and avoid being know as the “smelly guy.”

Three techniques to improve managing your existing space

ECO-SYSTM Coworking

Often, the easiest way to start prioritizing health and wellness is to implement programs, events, or other activities which help keep healthy living from feeling like a chore.

1. Find ways to encourage movement

From spontaneous dancing to walking meetings, movement is a great way to counteract the negative effects of sitting. Steve Jobs was a huge proponent of walking meetings, as they are proven to increase the clarity necessary for creative problem solving. Some spontaneous group stretching, pushups, or dancing will lighten the mood and help to shatter any work blahs.

2. Create a wellness program with member incentives

You can do anything from an analog member workout tracking chart on your wall, to fitbit competitions. And to up the ante, offer membership rewards or discounts to the top performers. Create a physical leaderboard or include shoutouts in your coworking space newsletter to appeal to the competitive streak that tends to run amongst freelancers and entrepreneurs.

3. Borrow inspiration from coworking spaces 

Several US coworking spaces are already piloting ways to integrate wellness into their space.  Primary has a Chief Wellness Officer and WorkFlow focuses equally upon yoga and work. CO+HOOTS members came up with the idea of a walking track for cell phone conversation pacers and they also have launched a wellness program. ECO-SYSTM offers access to yoga (pictured above) and workout classes with a DJ in their sister nightclub venue, as well as weekly massage therapy in their library. And The Mix offers yoga balls and balance disks to their members to encourage movement and core strengthening during the day.

How do you prioritize health and wellness in your coworking space? We’d love to hear from you. 

About the author

Amy King is a brand strategist and community builder. She has nearly 20 years of advertising, marketing and organizational development experience in the private and nonprofit sectors, with an emphasis on sustainable practices and storytelling for impact. A budding work ecologist, Amy is founder of the soon-to-launch GoodWork Coworking space in Dallas, TX (opening late 2016).