The 3 Attributes That Optimize Physical, Cognitive And Emotional Wellbeing In The Workplace

When comfort, communication and coordination are incorporated into workplace design, it creates an experience of physical and emotional wellbeing.
  • Well-designed workplaces communicate appropriate nonverbal messages.
  • A good workspace allows people to coordinate with the task at hand.
  • When people are in a space that makes them feel comfortable, they will feel good mentally and physically as they work.

A well-designed workspace can create a positive emotional experience that makes people better at problem solving, helps them think more creatively, get along better with others and be more relaxed and healthier, according to a leading environmental psychologist.

Elements of comfort, communication, and coordination can optimize a workplace setting, Sally Augustin, PhD, principal, Design With Science and Editor, Research Design Connections, told an audience of workplace strategists at the Workplace Trends Conference during AWA’s Workplace Week in New York recently.

Augustin cited research showing how specific colors, patterns and even scents in an environment can foster creativity, encourage relaxation, or civilize negotiations.

When people are comfortable in their space they are more likely to feel good mentally and physically as they work.

Ways to increase people’s comfort in a business environment include providing a level of control over their environment, being able to take a mental break from high-concentration tasks, and to integrate elements of biophilia, she said.

Being able to adjust the color and intensity of light and the levels of heat and ventilation can help people feel more at ease, according to Augustin.

Control comes into play in other ways as well. For example, when workers see unused spaces in an activity-based workplace, they gain a sense of control over their environment since they can choose one or more of those spaces to work in at that time, increasing their satisfaction with the environment.

“We care about that because when people’s satisfaction with the environment increases, their job performance increases,” she said.

When people do work that requires concentration or focus, they become mentally exhausted and need the opportunity to cognitively refresh.

“We know now that even looking at a fountain can be as cognitively refreshing as looking out at nature, which is important for office dwellers in more urban settings,” she explained. For example, European buildings with intricate carvings draw the viewer in because it is cognitively refreshing to look at them.

Biophilic-designed spaces also make us feel comfortable.

Biophilia can be incorporated by using natural materials or fabrics with organic patterns, such as leaf images. Another is to incorporate a sense of movement similar to a meadow of long grasses that sway; this might be done by hanging curtains that move gently in the breeze, she suggested.

In a biophilic designed space, people have views of the environment, which does not necessarily mean that the space is open, Augustin said. “It’s more that they have a sense of perspective and reference. Give people a protected view of the world around them in a place where they feel secure” she advised.

In a well-designed workplace where people work to their full potential, communication is directly supported and appropriate nonverbal messages are sent.

Socializing with each other is a very fundamental need and certain design guidelines can optimize the opportunities for that.

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Research from the University of Michigan found that for every 100 feet of zonal path overlap (defined as the amount of walking that people need to do to work, eat and otherwise move through their workday), collaboration goes up 20%.

Nonverbal messages are communicated via an environment’s design.

Workplace design should be consistent with how employees view themselves and their organization. Space should echo the personality of the company, as well as provide ample space to interact with colleagues.

Augustin shared an example of a Silicon Valley company that moved AI departments near c-suite executives. “But sitting near the boss might not necessarily be a good thing in every organization,” she said. “Maybe people who are not performing up their potential get moved into those seats. That’s why you have to do research in every organization to understand what nonverbal messages may be being sent in the workplace.

Good spaces where people work to their full potential coordinate with the task at hand and with whatever tools may be necessary for said task.

This refers to setting the optimal stimulation level for the task at hand by addressing quiet and more active areas within the environment.

“When we’re doing straightforward work that we’ve done regularly in the past it’s better to be in an energizing environment. Seeing other people revs us up,” Augustin added.

However, when we’re doing something that requires more concentration, we want to be in a more relaxed space, she noted.

  • Sensory aspects also come into play when designing a workplace for the optimal emotional experience.
  • Augustin shared some examples of other spaces where people are more likely to think creatively and work to their full potential.
  • Seeing green has been linked to more creative thinking. Green is also linked to many positives, such as spring, nature, renewal and acting in an environmentally responsible way.
  • Being able to open and close doors, windows and curtains give people a sense of control.
  • Cushions at least an inch thick help people negotiate in a more civilized manner.
  • Chairs placed at right angles allow us to make eye contact with each other or gracefully look away as desired, controlling our own experience and maintaining the right sort of energy.
  • Spaces with lots of curved lines increase comfort and creative thinking. This might include a curved fabric pattern, tabletop or even round fishbowl or other decorative object.
  • Spaces with moderate visual complexity have been linked with creative thinking.
  • Natural wood grain can destress us in the same way looking at nature can.
  • Scents have a fundamental influence on our emotional well-being. The optimal scent to foster creative thinking: cinnamon vanilla.