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Wellness is the new black: the Workbar perspective

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Wellness is making waves as the new, fashionable trend in coworking. It was at the forefront of the Australian Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) in Sydney earlier this year, where GCUC founder Liz Elam confidently professed “Wellness is the new black!”

The notion of wellness at work can sound like fluff. However, in an environment where the lines between passion and profession have blurred, our work has become a lifestyle. Think of digital nomads, community managers, chief inspirers, serial founders, remote workers, and millennial freelancers. These titles conjure a particular image of a person, primarily an empowered one. In this environment, wellness in our office spaces has become a requirement rather than a luxury.

Personal pursuits of health and happiness have found their way into our daily work lives, and one method that coworking spaces and property developers are accomplishing this is through the WELL building standard. It’s a certification that focuses on enhancing a building’s impact on its occupants, encouraging a healthier, happier space.

Boston-based Workbar is the first coworking space to achieve the WELL certification, something they have in all their previous spaces. I spoke to Devin Cole, Head of Community at Workbar to better understand this wellness trend and what is involved with meeting the WELL standard.

A Holistic Building

The Well standard defines itself as “the leading tool for advancing health and well-being in buildings globally.” What it takes to actually achieve this standard seems a little more ambiguous. Describing it frankly, Devin says, “It’s all about health, wellness, and productivity,” and promoting these values with subtle, well-designed features. The aim is to create an overall ambiance to foster wellness that has a lasting impact on members.

Diving straight into these features, Devin details the example in their newest, certified space, where Workbar has installed a high-quality and adjustable lighting system. “It’s a subtle thing. If you sit in the space, you wouldn’t necessarily notice this high-end lighting system,” he explains. The light changes to dim as the sun goes down. The idea is that our bodies take cues from sunlight and we are generally cut off from this by working inside offices with so much unnatural lighting. As such, it becomes difficult to maintain the circadian rhythms of our body, and in turn, we don’t build healthy work habits.

These simple, detailed-oriented designs permeate Workbar’s space, including workstations of varying sizes, complete with high-end furnishings. Devin highlights that “relating to WELL, those higher desks are important to have because they allow people to stand if they want to.” Workbar also provides more traditional health benefits like access to an in-house gym, bike lockers, and healthy snacks. They also provide less obvious features like smart heating and cooling sensors, air filtration systems to ensure a pristine environment, energy and water conservancy practices, and a water filtration system from a local company called Bevi. It’s this last one, the Bevi, that Devin promises is the coolest. “It’s a Boston company that makes filtered water. It’s an installation on the counter. I tell people it’s my best friend and even though it might not sound very cool, honestly if you saw it, you’d love it as well.”

On the surface, I have to admit all these features sound pretty appealing. However, what do the members think? Devin admits they haven’t noticed every intricate detail. Instead, he shares this feedback: “It’s a really comfortable environment. It just feels good. It’s sort of an intangible thing, but it just feels comfortable.”

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For busy professionals, the tone seems to be that wellness brings back that work-life balance. Aside from health and wellbeing, it’s about empowerment and the associated benefits. Devin hit the nail on the head when he said, “In the world we live in now, work occupies a really important place and it takes up a lot of people’s time. For us, providing the environment that people choose is really important.”

That’s what it’s starting to come down to, people wanting and choosing to be in the spaces available to them. Workbar understands this and maintains convenience, community, and wellness as their core business values in a number of ways.

First, they employ a unique network-based model to circumvent the need to commute, “It tends to be that coworking spaces exist in the downtown, urban core, so a lot of people have to commute to get there. This kind of defeats the purpose of coworking. If you’re looking for convenience but your only options are to commute an hour or 45 minutes, it diminishes the values that coworking represents,” Devin explains. For Workbar this meant having both urban and suburban spaces while also partnering with 12 other local and independent spaces to give their members plenty of options.

The coworking operator also put considerable thought into the design and architecture of their spaces prior to pursuing the WELL standard. They would skew towards open spaces that enable community building. “If you and I sit together I’ll end up saying hello. Whereas if you and I are sitting in glass boxes a distance away, we might not. That’s why we love having that open space be the primary setup for us,” says Devin.

In short, they’ve always had a tendency to work with their community in mind, so when their long-time local architect and design collaborator Analogue Studio told them about the WELL-standard, they were intrigued. “The WELL standard really aligns with what we’ve been trying to do for a long time. It’s like you hear a word that you didn’t know existed, but it perfectly sums up what you were trying to do all along,” explains Devin. He continues saying, “personally I love it. I hope more spaces adopt these kinds of practices because we’re in a business now where people are really choosing where they go to work, and that means many more people are working in places they actually want to be.”

In this sense, for coworking as an industry, standards like WELL might become as prevalent as LEED.

Why the wellness trend?

Coworking has always worked as a facilitator for social connection, allowing people to work for themselves or remotely in ways that don’t isolate them from the rest of the world. In this sense, the idea of a home office is becoming less appealing. It’s an industry with community as it’s foundation, which regardless of your business model, every coworking operator can agree upon. As these concepts progress, the objective of wellness and the core values of coworking as a whole have to meet, “Social connections lead to health. It sounds fluffy and touchy-feely but it’s true,” Devin explains.

In the same way that we invest heavily in finding ways to build, foster and grow our communities, coworking also strives to meet new guidelines that empower workers to live better, create more productively, and in the end, be healthier.


About Author

A London-based journalist, writing about culture, tech and coworking. Starting out in Berlin, she worked for St. Oberholz, one of Germany’s first coworking and cafe spaces for two years. She has since gone on to work for coworking-centric startups and continued to write about tech, freelance culture, startups and coworking, interviewing founders, community managers and entrepreneurs about their industry.

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