When you arrive at the headquarters for NELSON Worldwide in Philadelphia,, you know right away this isn’t a typical office building.
Natural light streams in through the floor-to-ceiling windows that form the building’s exterior. Your focus turns toward the “living wall” of lush green plants. The kitchen counter is stocked with fresh fruit. And there’s a noticeable absence of donuts.
As an architecture and design firm, NELSON wanted its new headquarters to have more than just a beautiful, modern design. They wanted to create an environment that would attract and retain top talent by supporting employee health and well-being.
So they designed this space using the principles of WELL certification. Here’s a look at how WELL building standards impacted its design and its workforce.
What Is WELL Certification?
WELL certification is the leading tool for advancing health and wellbeing in buildings globally. Working in conjunction with green building rating systems like LEED, BREEAM and Green Star, it outlines standards for buildings to follow and independent certification.
NELSON has applied for the WELL v.1 Certification, which outlines requirements for seven key categories:
- Air — Requires that buildings promote clean air and minimize pollution
- Water — Promotes safe and clean water through the implementation of proper filtration techniques and regular testing
- Nourishment — Requires the availability of fresh and wholesome foods, limits highly processed ingredients and supports mindful eating
- Light — Provides guidelines to minimize disruption to the body’s circadian system, enhance productivity and support good sleep quality
- Fitness — Promotes the integration of physical activity while discouraging sedentary behaviors
- Comfort — Consider thermal comfort, ergonomics and olfactory comfort in the workplace
- Mind — Optimizes cognitive and emotional health through design, technology and treatment strategies
WELL certification is a rigorous process that involves a combination of design elements, inspections and documented policies.
By investing in employee health through the guidelines provided by WELL Certification, companies can improve employee satisfaction and retention while reducing the costs of absenteeism.
NELSON’s WELL Certification Process
NELSON planned its new building with WELL certification in mind.
There were many factors to consider even before construction began, NELSON interior designer and WELL Accredited Professional Amy Leigh Hufford said.
First, the NELSON design and Brinjac engineering teams worked together to determine optimum metrics for desired air quality, and specified ductwork and filters that met the appropriate efficiency standards
They also had to consider WELL certification standards in their office design.
“One of the standards specifies you need to have a water dispenser 100 feet from every teammate, so we had to add water lines, counters and dispensers,” she said. “That can be a cost late in the game if you’re not prepared.”
Designers used absorbent materials and a sound-masking system to minimize office noise. They made sure to place quiet areas away from collaborative huddle areas, restrooms and the cafeteria. They purchased adjustable sit-stand desks that are more ergonomically friendly. And they implemented mobile technology that makes it easy for employees to find and reserve rooms in NELSON’s activity-based working environment.
(Watch the video below to learn more about how NELSON uses iOFFICE.)
Another aspect of WELL certification involved using policy to encourage healthier behaviors. To ensure employees took breaks, NELSON implemented a workplace policy stating employees could no longer eat at their desks. (This also prevents food smells from lingering in work areas.)
One policy that received some initial pushback was a regulation that all company-provided food must meet certain nutritional requirements.
“All food and beverages ordered by NELSON need to meet WELL's nutritional standards, including providing options that appeal to all diets and are safe from common allergens,” Hufford said. “But employees can still bring brownies—NELSON just can’t pay for them.”
Now, instead of a bowl of candy at the reception desk, there are dark chocolate-covered almonds.
The Impact of Workplace Wellness At NELSON
The company is still working to achieve WELL certification and hopes to be fully certified by its one-year anniversary of the new building, which is approaching soon.
At that point, it also plans to conduct a post-occupancy survey to ensure the new space is still meeting employees’ needs. However, the impact on employee behavior and company culture is already apparent, Hufford said.
“It’s pleasant to see people working away from their desks and people using the meditation room—even people who thought it was a silly idea at first,” she said. “People are finding out this is what they wanted and needed without even knowing it.”
NELSON is now working toward implementing other policies that support overall wellbeing and give employees a sense of purpose, including a corporate social responsibility initiative and opportunities to give back.
“It’s not about just water dispensers or comfortable furniture,” Hufford said. “It’s about giving everyone the tools they need to succeed and providing a purpose for your people that is more than financial.”