Employee wellbeing, both mental and physical, is a concept that is creeping higher and higher on clients’ agendas. Companies such as Nike, Google and Microsoft have led the way, dedicating space to wellness and mindfulness areas, gyms and other amenities designed to improve the employee experience. However, even smaller businesses are looking beyond the gym, with companies like the all-female co-working club The Wing in New York offering yoga studios and beauty rooms for workers, while in London, WeWork brings elements such as massages, grooming and pop-up barber shops into the workplace.
Coupled with this is an ever-increasing range of needs that both employers and the workplace must accommodate as in-house employee requirements diversify. These needs range from new moms needing to express at work to accommodating employees on the autistic spectrum, employees of faith, employees with gastro-intestinal disorders or diabetes, those with health issues and more.
With schemes in place such as WELL, a building standard that promotes wellness in new constructions, and World Green Building Council – Health, Wellbeing & Productivity in Offices which acts as a blueprint for office design with in-built wellness as a priority, there are some great things going on.
Potential vs status quo
At The Splash Lab, the question we are considering is:
Can the washroom play a part in a company’s wellbeing strategy to maximize the value of the space, or is it merely a necessary functional core space, squeezed in to increase net lettable area?
The beauty of incorporating wellbeing principles into the washroom is that bathrooms are an area already visited multiple times per day by every employee, which provides a huge design opportunity.
Solitude and a distraction-free environment are both cited by American psychologist and author Dr Scott Barry Kaufman to increase creative thoughts and improve wellbeing. This amplifies the point that office washrooms are more than mere places of function. The question is – do we design for historic tradition or for real-world usage? According to research that we, The Splash Lab, conducted, 78% of design students interviewed would consider deliberately designing the office washroom as a possible space for solitude and creative thinking and we would love to see this spread into spaces that are being built today.
Concept: Food for thought
We would like to see a building’s amenities viewed in terms of a space rather than as a room, with 3 zones that transition into the other. The core principle of this idea is to remove any walls that form an unwanted barrier of any kind, while retaining privacy through loosely zoning the space. Entering the space takes the user through three dedicated areas – disposal, washing and wellbeing – each with their own distinct purpose and sensory experience, moving from light, open and airy with ambient noise, through to spot lighting, private and purposeful noise.
Zone 1: Disposal
This area offers users acoustic and visual privacy through the use of well-thought-out ventilation, sound absorption or calming background music plus full-height cubicles.
Zone 2: Washing
Bringing hand-washing out from behind doors increases hand-washing levels. The use of multi-height splash planes made from natural materials, coupled with intuitive tap technologies, help to provide a refreshing experience.
Zone 3: Wellbeing
This area offers the most potential in terms of development and moving on from where we are today. Those who want privacy can retreat into curtained alcoves for expressing, administering medical procedures such insulin injections, meditation or prayer. Concierge, sleep pods, silence rooms… the choice is yours. It also offers a place where small temporary pop ups, such as a barber, massage chairs, shoe shines or guided meditation recordings could be installed.
Office washspace: traditional vs new
Key concepts distilled
We have distilled this concept into 7 key principles, which can be applied in most situations, to improve the washroom experience.
- Floor-to-ceiling cubicles
- A communal area for handwashing
- Clear multi-sensory wayfinding
- Competent noise and odour control, not through the usage of artificial toxic sprays, but through extraction and/or natural fragrances
- Noise control
- An intuitive hand-washing experience
- Make it multi-purpose – consider secondary uses of the space for breast feeding, injecting, ablutions, and grooming
At the end of the day, the washroom still has to make commercial sense and with space at a premium in many new constructions, we feel there is a large opportunity that exists within an existing necessary space waiting to be realised.
Washrooms are the most used space but the least considered, we’re changing that.
Image 1: Westfield shopping centre by The Splash Lab
Image 2: The Wing, New York
Images 3-5: Washspace concepts from The Splash Lab CPD report