Sarah Bartley of Fern and Noble discusses the direct impact that designing multi-sensory workspaces can have on employee wellbeing, productivity and performance.
Multi-sensory workspaces are growing in popularity. It’s a big part of the green versus lean debate that promotes the importance of designing for the benefit of the workers above a factory style minimal layout. It’s a workplace design philosophy gaining recognition as an important factor in workplace wellness and productivity and there are practical applications we can follow to help create a functional multi-sensory workplace.
The concept of multi-sensory workplaces is based on the understanding that as humans we evolved using our senses to harness our surroundings and by ignoring this we are also ignoring a very human element necessary for our state of mind. Workspaces that offer little sensory stimulation to the occupants is likened to sensory deprivation where extended periods (and let’s face it we spend one-third of our lifetime in our offices) can result in apathy, anxiety and depression.
Our senses can work for us or against us. We all have preferences and limits for how well we work when exposed to different stimuli. The important thing to consider is how triggering our senses effects our productivity in a workplace and how workplace designers can use this understanding to create spaces that positively impact our performance at work.
Positive impact on productivity
One discovery has been that slight variation in our environments helps keep us focused and alert. This has a positive impact on our concentration and speed at which we can complete tasks. This can be applied by making sure you have plenty of natural light, using a circadian lighting design for artificial light and creating a variety of texture and spatial variation inside the office itself. The use of texture and colour is an easy way to create tactile and visually diverse interiors. Natural patterns and natural elements have been shown to offer this variety while also offering a calming atmosphere.
Plants offer great multi-sensory benefits
Plants are a very useful tool inside an office space as they serve many functions for achieving a great multi-sensory environment. Plants are recognised as offering a restorative quality and improving atmospheric conditions. Tending to a desk plant or running your fingers along a plant-wall is revitalising. Plants improve focus when their slight movement breaks our concentration away from a task for just a second, thus re-booting our brains and improving focus. Plants also offer excellent acoustic dampening. Open plan offices look great but often have issues with sound travel which sound absorbing texture offered by plants, moss panels and green dividers can easily fix.
Impacting on sound travel
Creating the most beneficial multi-sensory office must also consider options to limit sensory distractions in the case where spaces are too noisy or busy. This is particularly important when understanding some workers may have lower thresholds than others. Creating separate zones for group work or individual focus can offer this relief. Soundproofed modular meeting pods and call booths are a fun and easy way to limit sound travel and distraction in smaller open plan offices.
Immediate improvements in performance
Designing for the multi-sensory needs of workers has an immediate effect on the moods of the occupants and the benefits to your company far outreach the benefits of standard office perks. This is because it has a direct impact on the work itself by affecting how employees feel when they are at work, their ability to perform at their jobs and the quality of work they produce.
Fern and Noble use the principle of biophilic design to create workplaces that enhance wellbeing, mental and physical health, and improve productivity.
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