People who work in an office environment spend a significant percentage of their life there. It’s certainly true for our team, which is one of the reasons we are proponents of the Fitwel System. Developed by the United States General Services Administration (GSA) based on research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this evidence-based program encourages organizations to optimize their work environments to support employee health. It also provides a scorecard for ranking the success of your efforts and defines different levels of certification. A success not just in the U.S. but internationally as well; the system is used in more than 35 countries with over 1,300 global users and 465,000+ people enjoying the benefits.
Having completed the program’s training course, I am now what is known as a Fitwel Ambassador. So, it only seemed fitting to apply what I’ve learned to the Patriquin Architects office. As I explain below, we did not score well initially. However, not long ago we bought the “King’s Block” building where our agency resides, and while it has been a wonderful location for our business, we will use planned renovations to implement more Fitwel principles.
Implementing Healthy Upgrades to a Historic Landmark
Built in 1816 and the oldest surviving Federalist commercial building in the area, what was dubbed the “King’s Block” building after an 1850 expansion greatly extended its length, has a rich and interesting history. The three-story masonry building, from which the wooden additions were later removed, has changed hands multiple times in its 200+ years and been home to many businesses: fish store, tavern, hotel, church, and brothel to name just a few.
However, it was constructed long before business owners gave any thought to employee health and wellness. Consequently, there are many steps we plan to take as its new owner to align it with the Fitwel standard.
The Fundamentals of Fitwel
Fitwel is a point-based system that encourages healthy work conditions and behaviors. Certification of 1 to 3 stars is given to organizations that reach certain point levels. And, certification is no walk in the park! This is especially true for smaller offices, as the system was originally designed for large buildings and campuses, and consequently some points are not attainable. When we first assessed our office, we scored 86 out of a possible 144 points — a total that falls below even a 1-star ranking.
More recently, however, we reviewed the Fitwel checklist and found that we qualify for 1 star with minimal change from how we would normally design and operate. And, with some additional changes, 2-star certification is well within reach. As we prepare to renovate King’s Block, we have the perfect opportunity to make these modifications to the benefit of our staff and future tenants.
Here’s a sample of the Fitwel checklist for King’s Block. View the full checklist here.
Our Fitwel Challenges and Solutions
It’s been said that nothing worth having comes easy, and we know that will be true as we pursue Fitwel certification. We face a number of challenges in earning more points, but have come up with strategies for addressing them. For example:
- We do not have a cafeteria. However, we provide healthy snacks every week to support proper nutrition.
- We do not have the space for an onsite fitness facility. We can address this shortcoming by providing active workstations with stand-up desks and step machines to enable at-the-desk activity.
- We don’t yet know all that our neighborhood has to offer. Providing maps and coordinating area activities will help. For instance, we can join community dinners where neighbors get together to try local eating. In good weather, we also plan to have walking staff meetings.
As is so often the case in the work we do as architects, it’s all about commitment and creativity.
How “Fit” is Your Facility?
Looking to provide a healthier work environment for your employees and the enhanced business reputation you will rightly get from doing so? Have questions about how to make Fitwel-focused changes to your facility? As a Fitwel Ambassador, I’d love to talk with you about your options. Please contact me at your convenience.