Workplace Engagement and Wellbeing
For decades, staff wellbeing and engagement was considered a secondary responsibility of the HR department. Now, however, these 2 crucial elements are finally becoming a key consideration in every successful business strategy. And no wonder: highly engaged teams are 21% more profitable. It is now clear that unhealthy, unengaged employees have a devastating impact on creativity, productivity, and the bottom line.
As the spatial embodiment of your company, your workspace has a crucial role to play in the engagement and wellbeing of your workforce. Over the last 10 years, huge strides have been made in how we understand workspace design and its contribution to staff wellbeing and performance. Staff who are satisfied with the various aspects of their working environment also demonstrate higher engagement. According to many studies, the single most important element that determines an employee’s ability to focus is their environment. No matter an employee’s role or seniority, their working environment is of prime importance.
What is the Sensory Workspace?
When you think of cutting-edge offices, the Instagrammable workspaces of tech giants probably are the first thing to come to your mind. Appearing all over social media, these offices feature extravagant designs and exotic features, from indoor rainforests to sleep pods. However, there is far more to these workspaces than at first meets the eye. They have been designed in order to create the most engaging and productive workplace experience possible. Far from being a gimmicky waste of money, they are a bottom-line-focussed investment in the engagement and wellbeing of their people. This, in turn, creates a far more innovative, agile, productive, and profitable workforce and company.
Now more than ever, it is essential that your own office is employee-centric, focussing on the needs of your people. By ensuring they are in the best possible position to perform, you are setting your company up for sustainable success over the long term. Sensory workspace design considers all five senses and creates a cohesive working experience that develops a more engaged and productive workforce.
The 5 Senses in Workspace Design
While it may seem the only sense that has a significant impact on the productivity of your staff in your office is sight, all the elements contribute significantly – especially sight, touch, and sound. We’ve broken down how office design impacts each of your senses, and how to optimise your workspace for every one of them.
The most obvious sense to design for, sight is often the primary consideration of architectural and interior design – sometimes at the expense of the wholistic sensory experience. The simplest way to design for sight is the use of colour psychology. Brightly coloured spaces featuring reds, yellows and stimulating features promote collaboration and innovation. In contrast, more natural tones like blues and beiges are more suited for focussed work in quieter areas.
Light will also have a significant impact on the experience of your people in the space. Bright lighting and a spacious design will again increase interaction and innovation, while warmer, more intimate lighting will lend itself to calmer, more individual work. Biophilic design is often thought of as including a few plants, but it also extends to natural light, as well as finishes in your workspace. Introducing plants can increase oxygen levels and air quality, with all the benefits that arise from improved concentration and creativity, as well as being more visually appealing.
Materials and finishes not only add another element to the visual design of your workspace but add to the tactile experience too. Softer materials and furnishings create a more relaxed, comfortable experience, while also lending more personality to an office. Harder finishes can present a more polished and professional feel, which affects how your people think and interact while in the space.
Beyond this, another element of touch in workspace design is ergonomics. If your furniture has inadequate ergonomics your employees will soon feel it in their backs, necks, and shoulders. Poorly positioned technology will cause bad posture and carpal tunnel syndrome, and the list goes on and on. 7 in 10 office workers say that their chair has caused them back pain. Insufficient ergonomics can also lead to higher levels of fatigue through inactivity and poor posture. Ensuring that your office design has high-quality ergonomics will increase the wellbeing and engagement in your workspace.
One of the hardest elements to control in a space, acoustics play a crucial role in the productivity of your people. 53% of workers are often distracted by others when trying to focus. Areas with higher levels of noise lend themselves to collaboration and interaction but can become very distracting. On the other hand, spaces that are very quiet can be great for focussed work, but oppressive and unnerving for teamwork.
Sound is like water – it can make it through the smallest gap. Open-plan offices are known to be loud and distracting spaces due to a large number of people with few barriers to absorb the high noise levels. There are several ways to improve the acoustics in your office, the easiest of which is the use of acoustic office furniture. Soft furnishings, carpets, and acoustic baffles can also absorb excess sound in your space, reducing distractions and creating a healthier working environment. This is especially important in spaces that are designed for people to work alone, so that they can feel safe and undistracted, with the peace and privacy to focus on their work.
While not an immediately obvious part of the office, smell does have an impact on our workplace sensory experience. Smell is one of the strongest senses as it connects to the emotional and memory functions of the brain. Research has shown that certain smells can impact our alertness, and so affect our productivity. Strong smells of food in the workplace can also be very distracting and irritating for co-workers.
While taste is not directly impacted by the workspace itself, the food and drink that people consume throughout the day has a significant impact on productivity and, in the long-term, physical and mental wellbeing. Encouraging staff to eat healthily and making it easy for them to do so will improve their energy and concentration, making them more productive. Whether that’s hosting nutrition training sessions or keeping the kitchen supplied with fresh fruit, helping your workers to stay healthy is healthy for your bottom line.
Your Sensory Workspace
Balance is crucial in the sensory workspace. Overstimulating your staff will lead to them feeling confused, disoriented and in a worse position than before. By considering the holistic needs of your staff, you can create a sensory workplace that reflects and enhances your culture, setting your team and your company up for future success.