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Atlanta is Designing Office Spaces To Be Your New Fitness Coach

by Joyce Fownes

Forget LA Fitness — workplaces are now playing an active role in helping employees maintain good health and wellness. Atlanta is a forerunner in this shift, as the city is a home base and innovation hub for the new Active Design movement.

The Center for Active Design (CfAD) is a leading national non-profit that uses design to foster health. CfAD defines Active Design as “the promotion of workforce and community wellness, physical activity and healthy food access through thoughtful urban and office design.”

Active Design for your office space is about getting you in motion. Health-conscious business leaders are now asking their interior designers and architects to build opportunities into the workspace to get employees out of their seats.

Here are five key areas addressed through Active Design that you can incorporate into your workspace whether you’re a one-man or woman show or an employee in a large corporate conglomeration:

Standing — If sitting is the new carbs, stand-up desks are the new CrossFit. Another popular option is stand-up meeting spaces with bar-height conference tables. Last year, Perkins+Will’s Atlanta office — in partnership with CfAD, Steelcase and Mt. Sinai Hospital — was awarded the Association of Interior Designers Foundation Grant to study the effectiveness of standing desks.

Walking — Active Design encourages movement, so while standing is the first step forward, the ultimate goal is taking actual steps. First there were workplace pedometer step-tracking challenges. Then Fitbit, Jawbone, Apple Watch and other “smart devices” turned the walking challenge digital. The ultimate in workplace walking, though, is the treadmill desk. Sales of treadmill desks continue to rise. Some organizations have created treadmill conference rooms where multiple treadmills face each other so executives can walk and talk business at the same time.

In Atlanta, you can see treadmill desks in action at the offices of companies like Salesforce, Manhattan Associates, Morris Manning & Martin LLP and PwC. At Atlanta Tech Village you can wheel a scooter from meeting to meeting. One Perkins+Will client in Chicago even installed an in-office bike path. The relocation of offices along Atlanta Beltline’s bike-friendly paths also encourages increased use of wheels.

Climbing — More employers are intentionally placing staircases in highly visible areas to encourage their use. One major pharmaceutical company has made fire stairs more welcome by extending landings and adding glass to increase visibility of the feature. Designers are adding artwork and signage to inspire stairwell usage. The Atlanta offices of commercial real estate firm Colliers feature a custom steel and glass interior stairway between floors which encourage employees to interact in passing while getting their cardio.

Connecting — The nature of personal connections in the workplace is another thing that is on the move. Company-provided exercise spaces such as on-site fitness centers, running paths, and yoga studios are becoming impromptu meeting spaces. Designers are also configuring open, naturally-lighted spaces to encourage workers to leave their desks, untether from devices, and interact with others in-person.

At the recently redesigned Atlanta offices of a major consulting firm, the theme of southern hospitality was used to bring work-from-home employees back into an office environment; by designing the space with warm and homey, but contemporary, furnishings, the firm has created a sense of “home base” and of a “colleague community”. The office features healthy snack zones, stand-up meeting areas, and treadmill desks as well as a wide variety of comfortable meeting areas and focused work spaces.

Balancing — Employers are increasingly interested in a Google-esque culture, work style and workspace that blurs the lines between work and home. This includes time and space to refresh, recharge and re-balance. Meditation/focus rooms, privacy chairs, quiet rooms and even nap rooms are behavioral health features springing up in corporate office designs. Amenities such as on-site showers, lockers, and bike storage facilities make it easier than ever to mix work and workouts without having to go between office and home. Mixing indoors and outdoors is another approach — Newell Brand’s Atlanta offices feature outdoor meeting rooms and restorative rooftop garden spaces.

To bring all of these elements together, the General Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have created Fitwel — a digital scorecard and certification system that is the wellness equivalent to the environmentally-focused LEED ratings. A natural fit with Active Design principles, the Fitwel program is being brought to market by CfAD, and the Atlanta office of Perkins+Will on Peachtree at 16th Street will be one of the first in the nation to pursue Fitwel certification.

Active Design is the new reality of wellness and of workplaces. Atlantans’ excuses for being out of shape are fading fast.

All photos courtesy of Perkins + Will.

Joyce Fownes, Principal Allied ASID, Allied IIDA, LEED AP BD+C is Interior Design discipline leader and the Corporate Interior market sector leader for Perkins+Will’s Atlanta office.

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