For many of us the inconvenient truth when we picture the workplace is row after row of desks in a poorly lit, inadequately ventilated room, where the only sense of identity and character comes from a pot plant on its last legs and generic motivational artwork that – more often than not – has the opposite effect on its consumers. The only light on offer to pierce the actual and existential gloom being the artificial luminous glow and hum of banks of computer screens.
Luckily, attitudes are changing towards workplace design and decor (although, as we’ll find, not completely across the board), with a whole gamut of research papers and studies identifying that a number of easily achievable factors – natural light, bright colours and ergonomically-designed seating – can help to enhance workplace wellbeing. This, naturally, leads to things that company directors love: increased work rate, creativity and productivity, and decreased staff turnover.
The workspace and the attitude of the employee are intrinsically linked, and the willingness of those in charge to create an environment in which their workers can flourish thanks to sound physical and psychological health will ultimately go towards improving their corporate success.
But this isn’t a theme that has been taken on board universally, as John Alker of the UK Green Building Council testifies: “For architects and designers, the idea that buildings influence the health, wellbeing and productivity of their occupants is not new,” he notes. “But this type of thinking is still not influencing most design, financing and leasing decisions – beyond perhaps the odd high profile Silicon Valley tech company.
“The relationship between people and the building in which they are working is vital. The majority of businesses are missing a trick in ignoring the enormous opportunity this relationship presents.”
Wellbeing is a rather “catch all” phrase for the health of an individual, but it goes beyond that. There is a theory of collective wellbeing in the workplace, and as we know from the notion of the “wisdom of many”, it only takes a few dissenting voices to create a sense of disenchantment. If a few individuals are unsatisfied with their surroundings in the office, factory or warehouse, then it goes without saying that the rest of your workforce will slowly follow.
An extension of this, and one that has been highlighted by The Business Magazine as “a key trend for 2016”, is convergent design.
A sense of fulfilment: The best aid to workplace happiness
ou may already be aware of the work of Albert Maslow, a noted psychologist, who devised a hierarchy of needs to understand what makes people tick.
All of these – Physiological, Security, Social, Esteem and Self Actualisation – can be aided and abetted by effective workplace architecture. Physiological needs (health and happiness) are manifested in a freedom to move around, and ensuring a layout that enables this is key.
The World Health Organisation notes that a sedentary job is the fourth-biggest killer of adults, with the average worker sitting – both at home and at work - for an average of 8.9 hours per day; or a third of a lifetime. Back pain, muscular aches, problems with blood flow and circulation: these are all linked to inactivity.
The community aspect is important too: facilitating interaction between employees is helpful in both a personal and corporate sense. Feeling like part of a team fits neatly into Maslow’s Social and Esteem levels of need, so don’t be afraid to support this; no matter how counter-intuitive it might seem to promote staff spending time not working!
Ideas hubs are becoming more popular too: these are, typically, soft-seating areas in which employees are encouraged to share thoughts and brainstorm; the new water cooler moments for the modern workforce.
Encouraging the very basic needs of the individual through comfortable work station set-ups, natural light, social spaces etc can set your employees on the journey to their ultimate destination: self fulfilment. And when an individual feels fulfilled by their job, the sky is the limit.
And that brings us nicely back to our original question: can convergent design enhance productivity, creativity and wellbeing? The answer, it would seem, is a resounding yes.
So the next time you’re considering how to improve your start-up’s bottom line, think a little outside the box. You probably already appreciate how staff morale resonates as increased productivity, being a switched on-entrepreneur, but consider how this is achieved.
Put your people first: satisfy their needs across the board and reap the rewards. Convergent design, as part of a sensible workplace strategy, is the first building block.
- This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.
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