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Workplace Design Has Gone To The Dogs… Literally!

Is workplace wellbeing a load of rubbish, or do we simply have too narrow a definition? PetSure’s new head office by The Bold Collective demonstrates the benefits of widening our wellbeing design strategy gaze.

  • Photography Andrew Worssam

  • Photography Andrew Worssam

  • Photography Andrew Worssam

  • Photography Andrew Worssam

  • Photography Andrew Worssam

  • Photography Andrew Worssam

  • Photography Andrew Worssam

  • Photography Andrew Worssam

It’s no secret that our built environment can shape our habits and choices, regulate our sleep-wake cycle, drive us toward healthy and unhealthy choices, and passively influence our health through the quality of our surroundings. Hell, we’ve managed to build an entire industry around it!

In fact, research suggests that employers spend roughly 90 per cent of their annual operating costs on people. Crazy, right? What this means is that even a small impact on productivity, engagement and satisfaction in the workplace can have huge returns on investment. And therefore, health and wellness is one of the largest growing industries in the design and architecture market, where we are finding more and more that our clients expect health to have a higher influence on the design and construction decisions we make for their projects.

The “agile working” term gets thrown around a lot today – often as a kind of catch-all explanation for new modalities in how we are supposed to be working. Efficiency, collaboration, focus, privacy, social and so on; we use these words far too interchangeably when referencing “agility” and it’s presumed positive effect on our overall wellbeing. But when you strip all that away, what does it actually mean?

At the heart of agile working is people. It’s a way of working in which an organisation empowers its people to determine for themselves where, when a nd how they work – with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints, facilitated of course through the ultimate blend of technology and design.

When it comes to the physical wellbeing element of our industry’s approach to commercial design, we’re totally on top of it. Governing bodies such as the WELL Institute for example, have established a widely accepted evidence-based rigour, covering off factors like air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and so on, as the primary factors in professional wellbeing.

Well, that all sounds fantastic on paper, but is it the whole story? Are these physical wellness initiatives making us work better? Happier? Healthier? What’s really missing here are the design strategies we create to serve our fundamental needs to be emotionally and mentally well.

The science of emotional wellbeing is arguably more complex than its physical counterpart, though equally as critical for our designers and architects to master. Designing a dog-friendly commercial environment for example, is not as easy as it sounds. While dogs have been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, bring teams together, encourage optimistic attitudes, behavior and morale as well as improve the overall demeanour of people in the space, designing environments that cater for dogs while also balancing the requirements for physical wellness is no walk in the park.

In their recent workplace project for pet insurance company, PetSure, Sydney-based design studio The Bold Collective demonstrate the ultimate harmony of designing for both physical and emotional wellbeing.

Sitting across four-levels within their parent company, Hollard Insurance’s Chatswood building, The Bold Collective was appointed to design PetSure’s new pet-friendly workplace on levels one and two.

“You can absolutely design to improve emotional wellbeing by creating positive, uplifting environments that are welcoming and human in scale,” say designers and co-founders of the bold Collective, Moniker Branagan and Ali McShane.

For Branagan and McShane, the key is not designing physical and emotional wellbeing as separate elements, but as one harmonious concept. “ There needs to be clever thought around support spaces within work settings to ensure that staff can find privacy and areas to retreat to when needed to focus, but also sufficient spaces that encourage human interaction and socialising.”

PetSure for example, were breaking away from a hierarchical office based environment to a more inclusive open layout and this transparency helps to make all staff feel a level of comfort and inclusion. “Humour was really key in breaking down formalities,” says McShane and Branagan, “and we have designed the PetSure workplace with a sense of fun and play, which contributes to a more pleasant and friendly environment.”

Examples of this ‘physmotional’ design philosophy are built into the very fiber of PetSure’s environment. The centerpiece of the concept is the interconnecting stairs, creating greater connectivity across the business units. “We saw this as an opportunity to design a collaborative tiered-seating amphitheatre for all staff presentations and informal meetings. The large void provides visibility between floors creating a more open, inviting feel,” explains McShane and Branagan.

The design approach of “fun and play” also greatly contribute to not only giving the space some personality, but also giving the users of the space a sense of ownership and therefore mental comfort in their workplace. McShane and Branagan note that: “We definitely ticked the fun box again by designing a repetitive kennel form with a pitched roof from the meeting rooms to the open meeting structures and kitchen area. Additionally, the environmental graphics took inspiration from the PetSure website, which has ‘petimonials’ describing the benefits pet owners have experienced through insuring their pets through PetSure. We also overlaid pet illustrations onto locker fronts and staff helped to name the lockers based on their own pet names.”

Even the more physical aspects of workplace wellness were designed to have an emotionally positive effect, explains McShane and Branagan, where aspects of access to natural light and plant life were key. Interestingly, design necessities such as hygiene, air quality, light and so on, were used as devices to unlock opportunities for a more mentally friendly dynamic. “PetSure was keen to be inclusive when it came to hosting pets in their workplace and both cats and dogs are welcome! Working with particular guidelines, we designed cat enclosures (that was a first!), which included a litter house, climbing stairs, scratching pole and shagpile carpet. The dogs however, roam free but are encouraged to stay within the large polished concrete areas to contain any surprises. We did raise some concerns around how dogs and cats would interact with one another but haven’t heard any stories of major incidences.”

If The Bold Collective’s achievements in the PetSure space are anything to go by, then we as an industry need to stop defining workplace wellbeing in such limited parameters and embrace a far more hybrid design approach to wellness. Aside from the obvious and thoroughly researched benefits, if this unified philosophy means more dogs in the office, then as far as I’m concerned, what more motivation do we need?


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