7 perspectives on how to design the human centered workplace

How can we design a workplace fit for purpose? This was the overall question on the international seminar Human Centric Workplaces held in Stockholm November 30. Seven highly recognised experts all delivered the same conclusion:
There is no one-fit-all answer.

This conclusion is why seminars and conferences like this are so important to the industry. People simply have to get input from different experts and researchers, with different angles and perspectives on how to turn our workplaces into productive, attractive and healing environments.

It´s a shame we don´t create workspaces where we flourish”, Dr Nigel Oseland noted, as he opened the seminar with a speech on psychoacoustics.

Nigel Oseland is a workplace strategist and researcher. He has conducted a study on psychoacoustics; how sound affects the physical, physiological and psychological parts of humans. Psychoacoustics is not only about how we perceive sound, but how we also interpret and react to it. He pointed out that the sound level is only 25 percent of what we perceive as noise. The rest is psychological factors, dependent on context and attitude.

Dr. Nigel Oseland

Dr. Nigel Oseland,workplace strategist and researcher, spoke about psychoacoustics.

You must know the personalities

Nigel Oseland’s study shows that 65 percent says noise affects them negatively. ”That´s not a good result”, he understated, ”when only a five percent increase in productivity can pay for the entire building.”

A five percent increase in productivity can pay for the entire building

The majority of the speakers stressed the importance of knowing the personalities of the employees. Nigel Oseland used extroverts and introverts as example.”To do simple tasks extroverts want a noisy and stimulating environment. Introverts on the other hand seek a calm environment. So we need different environments in order to survive.”

Most people, no matter what personality type, are most satisfied working in their home environment. ”These people have more perceived control. So we need to learn how we can take the best from our home environments and adapt it to our workplaces.”

Focus on happiness and wellbeing

Anicee Bauer, design researcher from Dutch interior design firm D/Dock, presented the concept of Healing Offices. The offices of the past were designed and fitted out of organisational and efficiency means, from an industrial body of thought. Today we have a lack of privacy and focus connected to problems with the acoustics in open plan offices.

Anicee Bauer

Anicee Bauer, design researcher, presented the concept of Healing Offices.

Work pressure and stress are the most common reasons for sick leave, and burn-outs are increasing. So what if we bring back people to their natural balance and use the office environment to do so”, suggested Anicee Bauer. ”We should not focus on effeciency but happiness and wellbeing instead. The cost of staff is 90 percent of businesses operating costs today. But only 13 percent feel engaged. There is a big imbalance here.”

To find the right solution, each workplace should use research and surveys to get an evidence based design. ”Start with asking the right questions and you will get the right answer for just your company. A success for one company doesn´t mean it will be a success for you”, she said.

Multitasking takes energy

Yvette Tietema, concept developer at Saint-Gobain Ecophon, put the brain into the spotlight, as office workers also can be considered brain workers. When we are multitasking, which everybody actually can´t handle, we are switching back and forth between different tasks. These switches alone demand 30-40 percent of our brain capacity. Reducing the numbers of switches is thus critical. By this means the acoustic environment is getting more and more important. And 70 percent of the brain workers are dissatisfied with the acoustic environment.

”It affects your heart rate, creates stress and reduces our willingness to collaborate. We get a little bit less friendly in a bad acosutic environment.”

Yvette Tietema

Yvette Tietema, concept developer at Saint-Gobain Ecophon, put the brain into the spotlight.

Respect our personality differences

Yvette Tietema used a golden egg as a metaphor for high productivity. Inside this egg you will find physical, functional and, above all, psychological comfort. 75 percent of our perceived comfort is psychological. Thus, internal factors such as the personality are important for the sense of psychological comfort.

We must respect our personality differences in our workplaces as we do in our private life. We can have the same sound environment and situation, but totally different experiences and with that different productivity.”

Yvette Tietema pointed out zoning as one way to offer different spaces for different tasks and personalities and reducing the number of switches. It´s one of the solutions in the Activity Based Acoustic Design methodology, based on evalutions and experts advices. ”We don´t have to work in cubicals to be productive. But our workplaces should not be a question of bore-out or burn-out”, Yvette Tietema summed up.

How light affects us

Karl Ryberg has specialized on the psycho-medical effects of light. He took the audience on an odyssey through the history of light, adding some perspectives on how light affects us in our workplaces.

The first artificial light the human invented was the fire. Now we could stay awake longer in the evenings. ”This is why you don´t want orange in the office – it is the colour of the evening and makes us sleepy. Blue, on the other hand, is the colour of the daylight sky and sends a signal it is time to wake.”

Karl Ryberg underlined that light affects our health and thus our producitvity: ”The reptile brain is extremely sensitive to light. And it controls the production of hormons, so light is very connected to our health. Therefore we should feed our eyes with quality light.”

Karl Ryberg

Karl Ryberg is specialized on the psycho-medical effects of light and spoke of how light affects us in our workplaces.

Distributed teams demands better leaders

New ways of working includes telework, agile work, flexible work, mobile work, home work. The terms are quite a few. The meaning of each one may shift, but common for all is that they all include considerable time away from the traditional office, supervisors and colleagues.

Dr Laura Hambley, founder of work consultant company Work Evohlution, has gathered all these in an overall term: Distributed teams. Laura Hambley has studied which key attributes and skills are required for distributed team leaders.

Assessing and developing people should be a key part of any change management and ongoing smarter working program.

”83 percent of organizations offer distributed work of some kind, but only 40 percent of the employees are receiving guidance. So we need better leaders, as leadership is even more challenging when working from a distance.”

One of Laura Hambleys conclusions was that the people aspects of distributed workplaces are often overlooked. “Assessing and developing people should be a key part of any change management and ongoing smarter working program.”

Work personas enable human centred workplaces

Personas, archetypal models of certain groups of people, are widely used in the field of marketing. But in the field of workplace design it´s a quite new method, derived by Dutch workplace consultants WPA Analytics and its co-founder Eelco Voogd.

The big advantage with work personas, compared to customer personas, is that the real persons behind are known. The work personas can be fueled with real data.

“To create an optimal human centred work environment we need to study the employees to understand them from goal to character. How do they use work tools, how do they cooperate, how engaged are they in the organization, what social profiles do they have, in what phase of life are they?” Eelco Voogd said.

Remember our seven senses

Tania Barney, occupational therapist from Sensory Intelligence Consulting, was the last speaker of the seminar. Tania Barney talked about sensory processing in workplace design, or how the brain processes sensory information and how it is applied on the workplace.

We have all learned in school that we have five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. But neuroscience has added two movement senses, that can be described as regulation senses. These are primary for attention and concentration – thus highly interesting when designing workplaces fit for a purpose. To understand our sensory intelligence we must understand how our brain works.

”It can be divided in two parts: the upper and the lower. The upper part is where we are thinking, learning and performing. The lower part is unconscious, uncontrolled and intuitive. This is the feeling brain, where attention, emotion and behaviour is determined. And 80 percent of the brain activity takes place in the lower, sensory part.”

Tania Barney

Tania Barney, occupational therapist, talked about sensory processing in workplace design.

The need of sensory profiling

Instead of talking about introverts or extroverts, Tania Barney uses a tree analogy with three different personalities, based on our sensory intelligence: leaves, roots and trunk. Leaves are sensory seekers on the extrovert end of the scale, roots are sensory sensitive and thus more introvert and trunks are inbetween. Based on this knowledge, Tania Barney presented sensory solutions for our workplaces.

”The leaves prefer a variety of activities. They cope best in the middle of an open space and need regular movement breaks. Roots on the other hand cope much better if they have a fixed desk, especially in a corner. They do much better if they are away from trafficked areas.”

Tania Barney meant that the roots are a bit overlooked in todays open plan offices.

”We need to think of both people and place in a symbiotic relationship and consider the neurophysiological aspects. Then we can have a positive impact on performance, productivity and well being.”

Note: Human Centric Workplaces was held November 30 2016 in Stockholm by Ecophon, IFMA, Workplace Evolutionaries and GoToWork.

Events 90 Office Environments 128 Psychoacoustics 40

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