An office for the future
Words by Suzanna Knight
Photos by Harry Brieffies
Can you tell us about your very broad entrepreneurial background?
My whole journey started with a company I started as a school project. I found it pretty surprising that you could get free coffee or tea in an office, but fruit or some kind of healthy snack was nowhere to be seen. So we started a business that offered fruit baskets to offices, Fruit.nu. We were one of the first companies to do something like that. Things took off from there and I couldn’t combine it with school anymore, so I quit school and started working. We sold it after three years, and it was the best learning experience I could’ve asked for. Then I joined and took over my father’s travel publishing company, but it didn’t work out due to the decrease in travel business and legal issues with the competitor after he took over. That went down five months ago, and it was a pretty heavy blow. To keep going, I started renting a workspace at B. Amsterdam. I wanted to continue doing something with health, innovation and the workplace. B. Amsterdam was the best place to start: inspiring, filled with people and companies doing great things. A really vibrant work environment.
That’s where you dreamed up Healthy Workers – how did that happen?
Ricardo van Loenen and Guus Meulendijks, the founders of B. Amsterdam, were working on a start-up concept to measure the effects that plants and flowers have on people. There was little to no awareness of that in the corporate world, even though it can do great things to an office environment. So I joined them and we developed a concept that we put to the test right away. We talked to dozens of HR and facility managers about our plans, at companies like IBM, PWC, and Nationale-Nederlanden. Insights into the effects of green in the workplace really appealed to them but it wasn’t something that kept them
How did you develop Healthy Workers into something that would really matter to them?
We took our concept – the fact that more plants and flowers in offices would create healthier environments – and expanded it. The thing that does keep CEOs up at night is how to keep their employees healthy and productive without spending too much money. You can do that with plants and flowers, but also through other interventions. We developed a new concept based on three themes: green, food and sport. Healthy Workers aims to adjust and improve offices with these three pillars, but above all, track the effects they have on the happiness and productivity of a workforce.
Healthy Workers aims to adjust and improve offices based on three pillars: green, food and sport.
How does the app work?
Healthy Workers is based around an app and an online dashboard. With the app, employees can do a body scan to register their overall health. The app then gives tailored advice on what you could do to improve your health and have a better day, all taken from the sports, nutrition and greenery plans their companies have with us. Say you’re having a stressful day; the app will suggest taking a short mindfulness session or grabbing a healthy fruit shake for a vitamin boost. The dashboard measures the effects of the app and its suggestions, so companies can see exactly what works and what doesn’t.
Why is it useful for companies to have this kind of information?
Companies invest thousands of euros in their employees’ health and well-being, but they have no insight into how effective this investment really is. They don’t know how their employees are feeling, and how the office environment is contributing to that. By providing insightful data into their employees’ well-being, we enable companies to create the perfect balance between green, food, sport and work, making sure none of that health investment money goes to waste. One way to measure and collect data, for example, is to place a sonde in the office to measure air quality, the results of which can be immediately fed back to the dashboard using technology developed by The Grid. To facilitate all of this, we have developed an Airbnb-like platform where vendors and suppliers, like caterers and florists, can register. Companies then pick and choose which supplier to use based on reviews and ratings. They can find everything they need to improve health and well-being in one place, making it an accessible and vital part of any modern office.
How do employees benefit from the app?
We don’t want people to feel like it’s Big Brother watching you. All the data will be anonymised. Healthy Workers has to be a positive thing. The insight your boss gets into the health and happiness of his employees should only confirm the benefits of what we offer, and prove to them that a healthy office costs far less than what they spend on workers who are on sick leave, for example. It should also be something you want to work on yourself. People think it’s normal to come home exhausted from work: let me tell you, it’s really not. If you’re happy at work, and can do things to stay vital and healthy throughout the day, you’ll come home with energy to spare. And you don’t have to use the facilities at work if you don’t want to, if you’d rather work out at your own gym – perfect. We just want to make sure you are your happiest and healthiest self.
People think it’s normal to come home exhausted from work: let me tell you, it’s really not.
It’s pretty obvious that sports and nutrition can positively impact your health; how does that work for plants and flowers?
There have been dozens of investigations into whether plants in offices can improve air quality and reduce stress. The results of these investigations are always a resounding yes. There aren’t many companies that see plants and flowers as a vital part of the office, and those that do often don’t do it right. You have to have the right plants, in the right places, with the right temperatures and condensation. Measuring the effects the plants have allows us to create far better tailor-made suggestions for all sorts of different offices. Our first pilot, which measures air quality and employee happiness, will start at B. Amsterdam in May. Of course we expect the results to be the same as the ones from the research we’ve read, but by doing it ourselves we can really prove that it works. That the benefits of plants are real, and the data we collect useful. We want Healthy Workers to be the bridge between plants and health. The research is there, the demand is increasing, but the right connection between supply and demand isn’t there yet.
How does Healthy Workers contribute to building better future cities?
There’s not enough innovation in cities when it comes to flowers and plants. It’s starting, with things like green rooftops and sustainable products and smart city developments, but it’s not nearly enough. Healthy Workers is a niche initiative, we really focus on health in offices and helping companies get the most out of a healthy workforce. But I believe in working with niches. It allows you to fully focus on one goal. And when all these different niche projects become successful at what they do, together they can form the buildings blocks of better, healthier future cities.