Millennials are a generation that has grown up with the world literally at its fingertips; one that believes its potential knows no boundaries. To put such mindsets into small, colorless cubicles is akin to asking them to send out their résumés and look for the rich experiences they crave elsewhere.

The millennial employee has been accused in the press and in viral TedTalk videos of being overly demanding with regard to workplace expectations, but shouldn’t employees of every age expect their health, well-being and general happiness to be forefront in their employers’ minds? Is that actually too much to ask? What’s good for the millennial can be good for all.

New norm

The growing norm is agile workplaces that morph to the demands and desires of individual employees while also supporting healthy lifestyles. The modern office encourages movement and creativity via unassigned seating and varying types of work areas — private offices for when you need quiet, communal tables for when you need to collaborate and sit-stand desks that are beneficial for circulation. The unattractive glare of bulbs is giving way to circadian lighting that works with the body’s natural rhythms. The drab, neutral colors on walls and floors are being replaced with vibrant hues proven to boost energy and mood. Biophilic design — installations that incorporate elements of nature or simply evoke the sensation of being within nature — is becoming requisite. These are offices that put their occupants first and function to encourage healthy habits and overall well-being.

Addressing the very human needs of office occupants is at the heart of the WELL Building Standard, developed by the International WELL Building Institute. WELL addresses seven concepts — air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind — that, when properly incorporated into a workspace (or any built space) can lead to increases in the health, wellness, engagement, productivity and, consequently, retention of employees. It’s a standard that is gaining momentum as businesses of all sizes adapt more sustainable, flexible methods of doing business and move the health and well-being of employees to the top of their priority lists.

"The growing norm is agile workplaces that morph to the demands and desires of individual employees while also supporting healthy lifestyles."

Living laboratory

In Washington, D.C., the office for the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) — a 8,500-square-foot building designed by Perkins+Will — staff members change workstations daily, sometimes hourly, depending on need and desire; enjoy free communal fruits, vegetables and herbs grown on their windowsill; and benefit from access to natural light and a private wellness room available to anyone looking to relax and recharge.

Circadian lighting, ergonomic seating, an automated shading system that reacts to changes in natural light and automated sit-stand desks are all in place to contribute to the employees’ best interests. All of the features are not immediately visible: plants line all of the windows to improve air quality, the water is filtered for specific minerality for drinking and cleaning and varying levels of acoustic installation based on the area of the office.

The idea is for the space to function as “a living laboratory,” according to ASID CEO Randy Fiser, one that will allow ASID to share research on the functionality of the space and how it affects its daily occupants with the design profession and the workforce at large.