Four Ways to Design Wellness into Public Health Laboratories
By Mike Mottet , principal laboratory planner , HDR and Warren Hendrickson , public health director , Education & Science , HDR
A laboratorian takes a phone call in stairwell , as it is likely the only quiet , solitary place in the building . A colleague stays at work after hours because inefficiencies in the aging facility are impacting productivity . These are not atypical scenes , particularly in public health laboratories . As employee health and wellness continues to be a priority for the workplace , designers and facility managers of public health laboratories are examining these new expectations and norms to reimagine a healthy , welcoming and productive work environment for staff .
Rethink Old Paradigms
In the past , break rooms were uninviting and utilitarian spaces with hard floors , the hum of the refrigerator and chatter of coworkers providing limited options for how laboratory staff could take a break and recharge . However , recently , design discussions increasingly include conversations about improved space for employees outside of the laboratory environment . Accommodating simple needs such as hoteling workstations and quiet spaces to be alone and relax , or even open wi-fi in designated areas of the building where security requirements allow for it .
Break Up the Break Spaces
Laboratorians benefit from spaces that offer moments of peace in comfortable , quiet areas with warmer lighting and good acoustics . Along with the traditional spaces for employees to collaborate and gather , designs now include spaces for staff to be alone , eat lunch or read a book on their breaks . Design teams have also incorporated fitness spaces , covered and uncovered outdoor spaces and walking paths to increase access to exercise and nature .
In the Maryland Public Health Laboratory designed by HDR , each floor has its own “ recharge ” area . Though not necessarily a designated break room , these are welcoming , comfortable areas for
Alabama Department of Public Health State Public Health Laboratory in Prattville , Alabama . Photo : HDR
employees to step away from an intense laboratory environment . With recharge areas on each floor , employees can take a quick moment to make a call or read a book before going back to work .
Prioritize Laboratory Efficiency
Inefficient laboratory flow can have a detrimental effect on productivity and , as a result , employee health and wellness . Given the task-oriented nature of their work , creating open , flexible environments that allow laboratory staff to optimize workflow can also create a more productive and enjoyable working day . In touring the Alabama Public Health Laboratory post-completion , HDR ’ s design team noticed tables uniquely grouped together in an open laboratory . To an outsider , it may have looked chaotic , but staff thrived in the flexible setup because it could be augmented to meet their specific needs and increase their workflow productivity .
Incorporate Visualization Into the Design Process
Design discussions with project partners welcome staff to envision how spaces can , should and could be used . For example , a conference room for meeting can also host a retirement party , or a huddle area for two to four staffers to collaborate can also be used by one person to make a phone call . HDR takes programmatic needs for spaces and allows users to dream about what else the space could be used for well before construction begins . When staff begins to move into the new facility , they have already visualized how they can use the space in support of their health , wellness and fun .
As sponsors of the APHL Healthiest Laboratory Award , HDR is committed to supporting the health and wellness for public health laboratories . We encourage further discussion about wellness in laboratories , and how vibrant and efficient work and relaxation environments for employees spur discovery and improve testing outcomes for the people of the state . g
HDR is an APHL Platinum Level Sustaining Member .
10 LAB MATTERS Spring 2023