Putting people at the centre of building design could provide large boost to the economy

More thoughtfully designed workplaces, centred around people’s needs, could improve performance and help tackle the UK’s productivity gap, according to a new report. Applying design thinking to boost workplace productivity by 5-8 per cent could contribute up to £20 billion to GDP. The potential gain in productivity, equivalent to twice the annual contribution to UK GDP made by the aerospace industry, is revealed in research conducted by researchers from Imperial College London in partnership with Atkins. Atkins commissioned the research to better understand and quantify the economic benefit from human centred design. The research claims to examine the ripple down effect on productivity brought about by an human centred focus on health and wellbeing. This in turn has a benefit for future business growth and can enhance the position of the national economy, according to the report. The research claims to support the importance of employees’ experience of the building in which they work and confirms that steps to create the right working environment can have a material impact on staff productivity and wellbeing.

It identifies six key areas where different approaches could be taken:

  • Lighting – improving daylight provision and the quality of artificial lighting
  • Ventilation / air quality – increasing ventilation flows and reducing Volatile Organic Compounds and carbon dioxide
  • Thermal comfort – including solar overheating in the working environment and enabling an individual to control the temperature of their immediate space
  • Noise and acoustics – reducing environmental noise (roads etc.), white noise (air conditioning systems etc.) and pink noise (human voice frequency)
  • Interaction – increasing the control and self-determination of the office environment including control of lighting, ventilation, physical desk setup and chosen setting
  • Visual elements – including plants and outside views, nature and materials

It also notes that relatively rapid payback on investment in these areas can be achieved, this is estimated to range between two to six years, with some individual elements seeing payback in as little as six months. The findings come amid growing scrutiny of the UK’s productivity versus other countries. Recent figures show productivity in the UK continues to lag behind the levels seen before the financial crisis.

Philip Watson, design director at Atkins, said: “This research underlines the incredible potential of human centric design. It puts employees’ productivity and wellbeing at the forefront of building design. Finding ways to boost productivity and strengthen GDP is even more important amid the growing challenges facing parts of the UK economy.”