When we design workplaces, there are a number of things we have to keep in mind, from legal stuff like building codes, to what happens if the company using the space experiences sudden growth. In amongst all those factors, it’s understandable that the mental well-being of the people working in those spaces can sometimes fall by the wayside.
Thing is, it’s actually really important to design for mental health. It affects everything from productivity to physical wellbeing and how well the teams within the company function.
Increasingly though, designers are realising that they need to create workplaces not just for the companies who hire them, but also for the employees who work at those companies. And thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever for them to do so.
Here are some of the ways technology is being used to aid in the design of mentally healthy workplaces.
Lighting the way
Do you work in an office with fluorescent lights? Have you ever noticed that, no matter what time of the day it is, you feel better when you step outside? There’s a good reason for that. Fluorescent lights have been linked to a variety of mental and physical health conditions.
Of particular concern to this article are findings which suggest that fluorescent bulbs can trigger a stress response, affecting our biorhythms, stress hormones, emotions, arousal levels, and muscle tension.
Fortunately, more and more workplace designers have realised this and are using computer modelling to maximise the number of windows in a building, allowing the people inside to get as much natural light as possible. Not only can that help with resetting natural sleep patterns (something crucial to good mental health), it can also mitigate the effects of conditions such as seasonal affective disorder.
The Sound of Silence
It’s easy to sell people on the idea of open-plan offices. Why, after all, wouldn’t you want people to be able to collaborate easily and see where all your colleagues are?
Truth be told though, the open plan office can make for an incredibly stressful working environment.
“The problem with open plan is that it creates a ‘sweat shop’ type scenario with unpleasant acoustics and a negative impact on productivity and wellness,” Lood Welgemoed, Associate Director, Boogertman + Partners Architects told Tamsin Oxford in an article published on this site back in January.
In a bid to avoid such problems, designers are using the latest building and acoustic technologies to create a variety of spaces that people can use according to the work they need to do.
There’s solid science behind this trend too.
“Disturbances are one of the biggest issues around wellbeing – they impact on the employee’s ability to do their work and can take three to four hours of productive time away from each employee every day,” Jonathan Hall of office design specialist Tower Bridge told Oxford in the same article. “This pushes up cortisol levels which then dampens health and wellbeing, and if they have a lot of work to do, then this will only add to their stress levels.”
So much as you might like to picture everyone in your company working as one, it’s well worth your while making use of the latest acoustic building technologies to ensure that everyone has the working environments they need.
New age napping
Think back to when you were a small kid. Chances are your early school days probably included a daily nap time.
Well, as it turns out, nap times are just as beneficial to adults. Taking a nap during the day means you’re more refreshed, increasing your ability to concentrate on work and decreasing your stress levels.
Increasingly, large companies are onboard with this and encourage their employees to take a nap at some point during the day.
In some companies, that can just mean pulling out a pillow your desk. Other businesses, however, take a much more high-tech approach.
Google, for instance, uses nap pods from MetroNaps, which puts users into a restful “zero gravity” position and includes specially composed sleep music and a gentle wake sequence of programmed lights and vibrations in its bag of tricks.
As always though, it’s important to remember that technology is only an enabler. If you want to create a workplace that fosters good mental health, it’s down to you to inculcate that goal into your company culture.
It may take time and investment, but if you get it right, the rewards will be substantial.