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Report: Optimizing Health and Wellness in Industrial Spaces Could Aid in Success of Sector

The Center for Active Design

By Catherine Sweeney 

As e-commerce continues to grow, the need for health and wellness in the workplace has also grown. According to a recent report by The Center for Active Design (CfAD), a non-profit which aims to promote wellness in the real estate landscape, optimizing healthy practices is crucial to the success of the industrial sector. 

“This is an area where there’s been a lot of growth recently,” said Sara Karerat, Director, Applied Research at the Center for Active Design. “It’s something that isn’t as common as it is in typical office spaces and multifamily residential, but the tide is continuing to spread and moving in that direction and tenants are really starting to demand it more and more. Specifically, in light of COVID-19, it’s something that they see as a necessity.”

While e-commerce has been growing prior to the onstart of the pandemic, COVID-19 accelerated its growth, leading to a tight labor market and high levels of employee turnover. According to the report, titled, “A Better Box,” the North American warehouse sector’s annual growth in warehouse and storage workforce is projected at 2.7 percent through 2026, with a valuation of more than $87 billion. However, at the same time, the industry saw a 60 percent employee turnover rate in 2020 and sees a 5 percent on-the-job injury rate annually. 

These issues have created cause for concern for landlords, tenants and industrial investors alike, with CfAD reporting 87 percent of employees consider health and wellness when choosing an employer. 

As workers continue to be the backbone of the industrial sector, CfAD suggests landlords, developers and property owners can work together to meet workplace needs for industrial employees particularly through maximizing location and accessibility of warehouses, designing functional and collaborative interior and outdoor spaces and creating areas that promote productivity. 

“We really think of it as holistic health, so that’s physical health, mental health and social health. It can mean a number of different things but it is really about making sure that folks have access to the resources that they need, whether it’s fresh water, or healthy food or spaces to be physically active within the site,” Karerat said. 

According to the report, being close to population centers can be helpful as it is easier for companies to recruit a strong labor force, but it also reduces supply chain costs by about 50 percent. Placing warehouse facilities in areas with strong access to amenities and transportation can also be beneficial to the overall health of employees and potentially improve a company’s retention rate. 

“There’s a lot of room to get creative. For example, if you are a last mile delivery storage space, there’s a lot of opportunity to – instead of just being in a separate section of this city that is only industrial spaces – to move that space into a mixed-use area where there are amenities and resources and assets in the nearby area and public health,” Karerat said. “…Also, if you are in a more rural or more suburban area, there’s opportunities to offer your employees a shuttle during peak travel times, and all of those different aspects to better connect to public transportation.”

Further, companies can optimize employee health by providing collaborative indoor spaces, break areas and easy access to water and other necessities. As many industrial workers work late shifts, added amenities, including kitchens and fitness centers can also help workers maintain a sense of normalcy, according to CfAD. Outdoor areas can also help to optimize employee health. CfAD suggests landscaping and walking paths can help decrease stress and anxiety from long work days.  

As well as physical spaces, the report notes tenants can further improve retention and employee safety by implementing communication and transparency as well as safety programs. Better technology, such as electronic wayfinding, can also help employees move more safely and efficiently through spaces, lowering the chances of accidents. 

According to Kererat, these strategies may not be able to be implemented all at once but will instead require collaboration and communication between facility managers, tenants, and property owners. 

“Where we see the most success is in collaborating and working together. Within these spaces, even if you don’t have a tenant on board, there’s a lot that the owner can set up and set those spaces up for success. Ultimately, by maximizing the outdoor spaces and making sure that it’s attractive to the tenants and then also communicating to the tenants, how they can optimize those spaces even further to be able to meet their needs.”

Overall, adapting to the needs of industrial employees could determine the future success of a company and its ability to retain employees. By optimizing these workplaces, the industrial sector can better support its workers and ultimately strengthen the global supply chain. 

“The main goal of this report is really to provide that actionable guidance, especially as the industrial sector continues to expand and create this new normal in the space of which like in response to covid where worker health and workplace productivity is really brought together as one mission and shows that’s sort of relationship,” Kererat said.