There’s so much talk these days about the office: open office vs. closed; importance of collaboration; the importance of acoustics; where should people feel free to work anyhow?
No doubt changes in technology have reinvented the workplace in recent years, and American society is trying to address what the “correct” answer is.
What’s more: office managers are trying to increase their retention rate by adding amenity spaces or downtime spots in-office where employees can congregate. But this doesn’t mean ping pong tables and a kegerator (although those are appreciated).
Kadie Yale with i+s spoke with Lois Goodell and Dave Madson, principals at CBT, to discuss the office must-haves for employee wellness and wellbeing. This information comes from not only their experiences in the field, but from the many “Vision Labs”—two- to three-day brainstorming sessions that include employees from the intern to executives—they conduct.
1. Bring Natural Lighting Indoors
Natural light “should be a prerequisite” said Madson. “The idea of natural light in a space should be first and foremost.”
There is plenty of evidence to support the fact that access to natural light throughout the day creates a healthier, more productive environment. It also makes employees happier when access to natural light and scenery isn’t exclusive to the upper echelons of the organization.
Madson continued, “We spend 95 percent of our time indoors. As animals, that’s not what we were designed to do. The idea of connecting with nature when you’re in an interior space fires some synapses that bring comfort to how we’re wired on a DNA level.”
2. Introduce variation.
When discussing the trend towards biophilia, Goodell stated that where you’re raised will bring up different associations to different environments—“If you grew up along the eastern seaboard [your associations and experiences are] going to be different than if you grew up in the wide open plains in the middle of the country,”—so biophilia doesn’t only work due to the reminder of the great outdoors. The importance of biophilia“seems[s] to be a little bit about textural change,” she said. “Plants and the texture of leaves or the colors of flowers; something that’s sensorial. It is our own biology that sets that in motion.”
Variety causes shifts in a person’s brain, allowing them to focus on new things while their subconscious plugs away at a tricky problem. But variation can be caused by integrating different types of spaces as well as textures, colors, and smells. Often times, this variation is available as amenity rooms or silent pods. “The idea of variety,” Madson explained, “can be something that swings the pendulum one way towards something more kinetic or chaotic to get you out of your mindset of work, or swings it the other so that it’s serene and quiet; almost zen.
“I think there’s a realization and understanding that to be productive in the office doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sitting at your desk for 8 or 12 hours. Instead, you’re using a variety of spaces to go through this cycle of a typical day.”
Of their own designs taking into consideration the variety of workstyles needed, he said, “There are intense collaborative areas, then there are these very serene spaces that may be off the beaten oath.”
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3. Understand the importance of social connections at work
Likewise, collaboration doesn’t always mean heads-down or boisterous work across the table. Collaboration can also look like the importance of an employee being present in a space with other coworkers so that they feel seen and part of a whole.
“Social connection at work is the ability to see other people,” said Goodell, “to feel like you’re amongst other people. That is a much different approach than the former thinking of workplace where even if you’re with people, you’re in an office or a workstation; this emphasis is on individual work [rather than] the idea of advancing your connection to work. So social not so much in that it’s just conversation—“What did you do over the weekend?”—but it’s a lot more about ‘I’m here at work because I want to share and learn and connect with other people.’ Creating a space that can support that is another way to create overall wellness.”
One way that variety of focus spaces mixed with the importance of social connections was created during one of CBT’s “Vision Labs.” A young employee came up with the term “focus forest” to describe a space where employees can meet together to do quiet work in each other’s midst; “In a way it’s like a quiet car on a train or a hushed environment like a reading room in a library,” said Madson.
Seeing others and having the ability to socialize can make employees focus better while feeling a connection to their work environment.
4. Leadership needs to “buy-in”
However, the best designed space and most stocked amenities won’t mean much if the resources are there without employees seeing the support from management. Creating a new company culture means more than physical space; it’s the way employees interact from the top down.
“I think something that kind of goes unsaid is the idea of complete buy-in by leadership,” explained Madson. “If that doesn’t happen, staff—all the different levels of staff—may not feel comfortable to use that space or work in a way that works for them. They may feel they need to conform to the cultural norms that are already existent in that office environment. Getting buy-in from leadership and having leadership do some of those things is incredibly important for a shift in more wellness and well-being-focused corporate culture.”
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