Office Wellness and Innovation

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    Jeffrey Lindstrom

    I am curious to hear what various offices do to address wellness. I know there are some extremely innovative companies out there that are pushing the envelope when it comes to thinking outside the box and making sure their employees are taken care of physically, mentally and socially (i.e. gym memberships, massages, PTO/flex days, etc.). I would like to see what other LA firms are doing out to balance the madness of intense deadlines, long work weeks, and stressful work environments.

    On a related note, I am also curious to hear what various companies and groups are doing to keep their employees intellectually stimulated and to inspire creativity. I don’t think it is any secret that when there is passion, sincere interest and cognitive stimulation, we are our best selves in the office. In reality though, we all know how easy it is to get sucked into a wormhole of construction details, project estimates and staring at a computer for hours, sometimes days, on end.

    I was particularly intrigued when I learned about a program that Google employed allowing employees to use 20% of their time on whatever projects they wanted. About 50% of Google’s new projects since have been a product of that 20% free time.

    Feel free to post any relevant thoughts, links, experiences, etc.


    Mark Di Lucido

    As the principal of a one person firm, I provide three-martini lunches as part of our wellness program. Seriously though, my favorite way of being “taken care of physically, mentally, and socially”, when I worked for someone else was to be given time off (usually paid but unpaid was welcome too) to use as I pleased. Gym memberships, massages, etc. are nice but not all employees highly value these. Almost everyone values time-off, especially if it comes as a surprise announcement from your boss. As to improving office social wellness, most team-building events make me want to hurl. I much prefer the casual impromptu method where the boss comes around and says “it’s beer-30”, and tosses you a cold one or sets up a few shots of Whistle Pig. Even those that didn’t drink enjoyed the conviviality and spontaneity of the moment. Where I work now, our wellness program is largely driven by our health insurance provider, the logic being if you’re healthy you cost the insurance company and your employer less. Insurance driven wellness programs include things like seminars on diabetes, smoking cessation, and getting or staying active. Many have point accumulation systems where you get points for having various types of medical screening performed (e.g., colonoscopy), or participation in exercise programs. I suspect though that these are found only at very large companies. And, now that we know sitting ‘is the new smoking’, some firms provide desks that can be raised (and lowered when necessary) to allow standing. One of my daughter’s professor’s uses a treadmill desk (is this what they mean by academic treadmill?).

    One firm I worked for actually flew the whole office (and spousal units) to a resort for the annual Christmas party—forked out some serious benjis in doing so but generated much goodwill which in turn enhanced collaboration and creativity. I also like the idea of ‘innovation sabbaticals’ like Google’s but I couldn’t convince my former LA bosses to implement—seems like this is more of a dot-com thing.

    Dave McCorquodale

    The small design-build firm I was an employee of didn’t do anything for health/wellness.  As an employee, I worked way to much, cared way too much about things I couldn’t change, and gave way too much control over my life to people who didn’t spend much time thinking about my well being.  So I quit.  Well, sort of.  I carefully found a workable solution to allow me to become an independent contractor for the same firm.  Lots of pros and cons, but to the point of the original thread I was able to focus on my health and family.  Now I work when I want and don’t let someone else’s deadline affect my schedule.  I run 15-20 miles during a typical week and see kids off to school almost every day.  My work hours are much more productive and I’m pretty happy regardless of what minor crisis arises on a project.  It’s not an option for everyone, but I found that giving up the false sense of security associated with an employee paycheck helped me get on with living a life that is enjoyable.

    Tosh K

    With fees being as tight as it is, it’s not very common to see so much time-off or perks.  A lot of the ‘platinum package’ benefits are ways for financial and dot-com companies to provide a larger compensation package but keep within specific tax brackets, etc.

    That being said, some larger design firms do provide gym memberships (usually offset by lower health insurance premiums).  Smaller firms often allow for flexible hours for nice long walks to lunch, days off after intense deadlines, firm sponsored lunches/happy hours/dinners.  I have known firms that flew their employees out for vacations, but that tells you about the profit margin they were operating on (long hours, low pay).  Some firms (SWA is one) do have ‘research sabbaticals’ that they offer employees.

    In terms of mental stimulation I mostly found that that was a studio culture thing – some studios have a lot of people that go to museums, lectures, etc, others not so much.  Regular presentations of people’s vacations, experiences at a conference, etc related to design can help and seem to be more or less the norm.

    for whatever reason dotcom companies seem to be flush with cash and can afford a lot of perks and lost time – it’s hard to compete with that.  on the other hand as LAs we do get to do work outside a fair amount.

    Blake Rhinehart

    I work for a medium size firm and some of the ways we encourage wellness and innovation are:

    -Company walks at 3pm, we all get up and go work a walk around the building each day. 

    -Every employee is allowed to spend time out of their week to research anything they want. It is only an hour a week but it has become a good time for employees to look up interesting articles, projects and tutorials and share them with their coworkers. 

    -Team brainstorms: At a minimum of once a month the company as a whole gets together to brainstorm ideas from everything from a project specifics, to design techniques, to how we can improve our company. These are a great way to encourage new ideas and collaborate as a team. 


    Well the best way to do it, like you sort of mentioned, is to give them work that makes them feel like they’re doing something meaningful, and making sure they don’t do overtime and burn out. And then all that wellness perks will be unnecessary.

    These construction details, estimates, being in front of the cpu, can be a bore, but I think people can understand and will be ok to do it if they’re made to feel like the project is their “baby”.

    If people are working long weeks and are in a stressful environment, then I don’t think the occasional “let’s forget you work for us hour” can do much to remedy that in the long run. It’s a short term solution, but people will leave if they see the time they give has no return value regardless of the amount of perks you give them.

    Though I’m not saying don’t fly us out the Bahamas and give us good bonuses. That’s always welcome 😉

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