The Case for Comfort
Comfort accounts for sustainable building ratings as well as employee attraction and retention.
The notion of comfort goes back to when our first ancestors developed simple tools to make life easier. What may be surprising is that the idea of personal comfort at work has taken generations to become a key concern and find its way into mainstream rating systems such as LEED, WELL Building Standard (WELL), and Living Building Challenge (LBC).
While comfort can take many definitions, it is commonly thought of as “a state of ease and satisfaction of bodily wants, with freedom from pain and anxiety.”
The belief that work is hard has been around for centuries. But the focus on worker comfort is relatively new. In the late 1800’s, when Frederick Tayler began looking at ways to improve workplace efficiency, a door was opened with a hint of things to come. But it wasn’t until World War II that individual comfort and the interaction between man and machine came into focus.
Today we’ve moved past some notable hurdles—smoking in the workplace and the Mad Men cubicle farm—to understand individual comfort on multiple levels that include physical, functional, and psychological.
Still, it’s a complicated topic with evolving challenges. The open office, with its many benefits—increased team connectivity, the breakdown of hierarchical barriers, and reduced costs—has replaced the cubicle, but with a downside. Top modern workplace complaints include a lack of boundaries, less ownership, distractions, and poor acoustics and temperature control.
These issues are so vital to the work environment that LEED, WELL and LBC have included levels of comfort in their rating systems.
LEED addresses user comfort by considering thermal comfort, interior lighting, and acoustic performance. WELL takes a similar approach but makes comfort a distinct category. The goal is to reduce sources of physiological disruption through enhanced acoustic, ergonomic, olfactory and thermal comfort. LBC takes a somewhat different and egalitarian approach, focusing on equal access for all to fresh air, good indoor air quality and sunlight. It also considers the importance of beauty for human delight and the celebration of local culture through design.
With the growing interest in workplace comfort, we are beginning to see a reduction in the one-size-fits-all model, with choice and personalization creating additional layers to the quest for comfort. Free address and alternative workspaces, options for preferences, wellness programs, and limitless amenities are now factors in attracting and retaining talent. IA recognizes the importance of weighing these factors, as well as incorporating natural light and biophilia, when designing for individual comfort in the built environment.
A seemingly futuristic example, Amsterdam’s Edge Building, touted as the “Smartest Building in the World,” is pushing customization to new limits. A smartphone app, developed to know your every preference, will guide you to a parking spot and, based on your schedule, determine where you’ll touchdown in the work environment. It even makes sure to fine tune the lighting and temperature to your liking.
As the case for comfort continues to be heard, and standards change for our built environments, workers find themselves more comfortable in the workplace than ever.