How Leigh Stringer Optimizes Wellness in the Workplace

At EYP Architecture & Engineering, Leigh Stringer develops wellness-oriented solutions for today’s ever-evolving office space

EYP's newly completed SUNY Polytechnic Institute zero-energy nanotechnology building features an interior kitchen, as Leigh Stringer says connecting physical space with other mental aspects of the workplace contribute to organizational well-being. (Eric Levin Photography)

The workplace has evolved dramatically in recent years, expanding on cubicles and benching to include wellness elements ranging from meditation rooms to green outdoor areas. But changes such as these do more than widen the eyes of potential hires. They add real value to the well-being of employees and, in turn, to the company’s bottom line.

Building upon research that shows healthy workers are more productive, Leigh Stringer, workplace research and strategy expert at EYP Architecture & Engineering, has made it her life’s work to unlock and explore new gateways toward financial and personal well-being. As the author of both The Green Workplace and The Healthy Workplace: How to Improve the Well-Being of Your Employees and Boost Your Company’s Bottom Line, Stringer is well-versed in the human aspects of working environments and their impact on business.

Stringer’s work has also been spotlighted by CNN, BBC, and The Wall Street Journal. When speaking with American Builders Quarterly, she shared some of her most insightful findings, including her research with the Harvard School of Public Health, and her development of a tool to measure organizational health and human performance. This research explores the range of factors contributing to worker well-being, from company culture to engagement, performance, and the overall health of employees. Stringer is helping to build additional factors into the measurement tool, including thermal comfort, lighting, noise pollution, access to walking areas, window views, and exercise facilities.

Among the many findings pulled from the tool to date, Stringer highlights two specific metrics that seem highly relevant to just about any office. First, more than 40 percent of workers are sleeping a dismal average of six hours or less per night, and that number is directly related to commute time and number of hours worked. This restlessness then translates to poorer performance across the board. Similarly, Stringer has found that mental health issues have a greater impact on both performance and attendance than physical health issues do—by a factor of nearly three to one. Stringer emphasizes that all workplaces need to address mental health and stress, not just pure physical comfort.

“The workplace isn’t just about the physical environment; it’s about the nature of work and the engagement of the workforce,” she says. “This requires different skills and different ways of thinking.” Stringer adds that while she “truly believes that the physical space is an incredibly critical part of our health and well-being,” she also suggests that “unless we connect physical space with other aspects that contribute to organizational well-being, we might miss the big picture. I mean, how does space rank or compare to other factors like culture, workload, or workplace policies? Sometimes we have to look at work from an occupational-health perspective and keep an open mind about how all of these elements intersect. And that means we need to go beyond architectural thinking and use the language of business to truly understand how workplaces can work more effectively.”

For Stringer, sometimes this means creating a dialogue with employees that extends beyond a seating arrangement and engaging them in a broader way. One such example of this would be her work with CrowdComfort, a QR-code-based system that enables workers to send workplace complaints or suggestions through an application on their phone. Stringer says that companies using tools such as CrowdComfort are yielding better findings because they allow workers to provide feedback in real time, when they are actually experiencing an issue—not months later when they take a satisfaction survey. Instant feedback tools also allow the design and facility team to fine-tune and improve more subtle aspects of the office environment.

“The workplace isn’t just about the physical environment; it’s about the nature of work and the engagement of the workforce. This requires different skills and different ways of thinking.”

Stringer has also helped improve workplace research through her efforts with Rifiniti, a workplace analytics company that leverages proprietary software to capture real-time space-use data—without the need for additional software. As Stringer explains, traditional workplace analysis all too often relies heavily on the face-to-face shadowing of employees, resulting in limited data on how space is actually used.

Companies such as Rifiniti resolve this by using software to capture data points ranging from application-specific interactions to machine-usage hours.

This software-based approach allows for more thorough data capture over a period of months or even years, which not only saves time on the part of the analysts, but also allows all parties to enjoy a deeper sense of confidence in terms of the authenticity of these findings.

“The data is broader and deeper and therefore more accurate,” Stringer explains, going on to describe how she is leveraging Rifiniti data to improve conditions at EYP’s Albany, New York, office. By partnering with Rifiniti, Stringer and her EYP colleagues are able to hone in on the key aspects of space utilization and compare this data with energy use, thermal comfort, lighting, and occupant satisfaction.

“By overlapping different data sets, our team is able to fine-tune energy use based on how the building is actually being occupied, not estimates and benchmarks,” Stringer says. This is especially important because the EYP Albany office sits in a building that aspires to net-zero energy use.

Woven throughout all of Stringer’s work is an all-too-frequent return to the most influential factors in employee productivity and health: choice and control. She says that more than any other driver, having choice and control of your work is crucial. Regardless of whether that means a choice of where, when, or how employees work or a choice of where, when, or how they exercise, the theory still holds true. The most healthy and productive workers are the ones who have ownership over their work and, in turn, their personal well-being.

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Rifiniti’s workplace analytics help businesses optimize their office space to reduce costs while delivering modern workplaces that engage employees. Using existing data and advanced analytics, our cloud-based solution provides powerful insight to workspace utilization that enables corporate real estate leaders to make smarter, faster real estate portfolio decisions.