Industry Knowledge Q+A: Bertie van Wyk

A key note speaker, workplace specialist and wellness advocate at our dealer partner, Herman Miller, we asked Bertie about the importance of wellbeing in the workplace and how it will evolve in the future.

Through Bertie’s understanding of humancentric design and workplace wellbeing, he aims to effectively equip organisations and individuals with the knowledge and skills to become more productive, healthy and connected. Join him at @bertievw

Read on or click play on the video below…


What topics are covered under the term “wellbeing”?

There’s quite a lot of topics covered under the term wellbeing. Everything from your corporate culture, to nutrition, to ergonomics, even the actual office design. For example, the floor-plan depicts who’s going to run into who in the office. The furniture you put in depicts your postures which affects your physical and mental wellbeing. Colours and fabric choices make it easier for people to understand what the purpose of a space is for which decreases the amount of stress someone experiences when they go into a space.

What is the biggest misconception of wellbeing?

The fact that wellbeing incentives make up for bad management and not paying people well enough.

What is often not a priority in wellbeing in the workplace which needs to have more consideration?

I think the biggest thing that we don’t consider enough is the actual needs of the individual. We think about collaboration and connecting people so much at the time that we forget sometimes the individual needs time on their own to focus. We get interrupted all the time. Once you get interrupted, it takes us 23 minutes with no further interruptions to get back to the level of focus that you were at. So, there’s too much distraction and we’re not getting enough choice of spaces to work on the individual things that we need to.

What is the biggest challenge facing wellbeing in the workplace?

Educating leadership to understand that wellbeing directly affects your business drivers. So, for instance, if someone is too stressed and has a heavy mental load, it affects their productivity, their physical and mental wellbeing, and those in combination mean that people aren’t as engaged as they want to be in the office. That affects staff engagement and staff attraction.

If you could solve one problem in the workplace, which would it be?

Creating flexibility; allowing people to work the way that they want to work on a specific day. That means providing enough variety and choice of when and where they want to work. Some people are morning people and work better in the morning. Some people are evening people and work better in the evening. So, we need to provide the correct amount of flexibility for people to work the best way that they want to.

Designers have recently adopted designing spaces to accommodate the different types of work we do. However, the latest idea is to design for the different personality types of people (introvert/extrovert etc). Do you think either of these are important for design and if so is one more important than the other?

I think both personality types are very important. We can’t just design for the one or the other. One of the biggest problems we have is that most of the time we design for the extroverts and their need for stimulation as they’re the ones talking the loudest. But if you listen to Susan Cain, 48% of the population are introverts and they require different kind of environments. Too much stimulus will actually have a negative effect on them. Again, providing the right variety and choices for people will solve that problem.

What do you think is the most important material thing in a workplace?

Having a fantastic ergonomically excellent chair. You have to have an ergonomically excellent chair. One of the biggest problems we have is when people go into an office that looks pretty and then they sit on a bench for the whole day which is really bad for you. You need really good ergonomic space in any space and every space.

What do you think is the most important non-material thing in a workplace?

A corporate culture. You need a great culture; a place where people actually can become friends. So if you make just a good friend in the office, according to Gallup, you’re 50% more satisfied doing the exact same job. So, no pay rise, no job title change…that corporate culture creates that connection. Even better, if you have a best friend in the office, you are 7 times more likely to engage fully in the business. So, it’s a win-win for the whole corporation and for the individual.

What do you think the future workplace will look like?

The future workplace will be heavily affected by technology. There’s going to be quite a lot of changes happening in the future. One of the biggest things that I think is going to happen is that we won’t be working in a bubble in our homes all the time but when we go into the office, it’ll be a fantastic experience place. So, it’ll have all the amenities that you want, all the connections that you want, it’ll be a great place to go in. It’ll have elements like going to the gym, it’ll have things that you don’t have at home. It’s very hard to predict what’s going to happen in the next 10 years but it will be about creating a wonderful experience and connection to others in the future.

Is well-being in the workplace a contradiction? It’s widely acknowledged that commuting and working in busy, packed offices creates stress and anxiety, therefore should the focus not be directed towards enabling employees to work in alternative locations more convenient to employees, with management who trust the employees will get the task done regardless of where they work, rather than making the spaces which create anxiety ‘well’?

I don’t think it is a contradiction. By that, I think you mean should people be going into offices, looking at our personal wellbeing? The answer is yes. Funnily enough, when you look at the highest engaged staff and the lowest level of disengaged staff, is when people get to work one day a week from home. So, if there is no working from home policy, your disengaged level of staff is quite high. But one day a week and your disengaged staff drops to its lowest level and the engaged staff (the staff the want to be there and deliver very highly) goes to its highest level. After that, when you look at 2-4 days working from home, your actively disengaged staff starts increasing quite a lot again because you don’t have that connection to others.

How far can technology go, in influencing furniture design to aid wellbeing moving forward? 

It’s going to become a key part of it. Technology is changing everything that we’re doing. One of the big things that we’re seeing now is integration with apps. So, technology telling us when to stand up and when to sit down and automatically moving your desk to exactly the right height when you’re moving between sitting and standing. It will integrate and be part of everything that we do.

What topic do you find most intriguing at the moment?

Nutrition. Nutrition affects our cognition and how well we perform. There’s a lot of things happening around the world around what kind of food you provide within your space. A professional athlete wouldn’t skip a meal… you cannot skip a meal. In the morning you need breakfast; you need food that will release glucose throughout the day so you actually have energy. You wouldn’t drive to the office or somewhere without any fuel in your car. Your mind works exactly the same. We’re massively affected by what we eat and when we eat. Also trying to avoid the sugars (and sugary drinks). So, you’ll see big changes in offices happening right now to do with what kind of food they provide, what will be available to you and there’ll be loads of education on how the food actually affects your mind and your wellbeing.

What advice would you give to someone on how to improve the initial impact of their current office?

I think the first thing we have to take into account is that we feel before we think. First impressions absolutely last. When we meet someone, we have 7 seconds for them to do an evaluation and create a long-time perception in their head. Your office is exactly the same. So how do people feel when they come into your space? How do your employees, new starters or potential clients feel? That first 7 seconds can make or break everything. It has to be an inviting place, you need a great cup of coffee, you need to be greeted with a smile and then, believe it or not, you also need fantastic toilets. Toilets have a really big impact on what people think about your business overall.

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