By Akshay Lakhanpal
Engaging workspaces have certainly become a key performance indicator for any major business today. Considering the significant impact that a well-designed work environment can have on its employees, it is important that office spaces are thoughtfully conceived. Leading organizations around the world know that they need to keep abreast with the changing times and a rapidly evolving business culture. Ergonomics, which was once considered as a simple science relating to desk, chair or lighting re-arrangement, has now advanced beyond these basic parameters.
While many companies have just begun recognizing the basics of good ergonomics for their employees, the best employers have gone further to understand the millennial work culture. They know that understanding this offers powerful value to a workplace and can cultivate a good cultural balance. Global trendsetters are offering their employees fully immersive workspaces that intrinsically blend human-environment interactions conducive to their objectives. From pizza ovens and coffee houses to yoga rooms and pinball slots, subtle modifications can act as key drivers in enhanced efficiency.
One of the main concerns for organizations today is managing employee stress. While stress is not always negative, too much of it can prove to be detrimental. A 2018 survey shows that 95% of working millennials in India are extremely stressed. Physical pain in hands, legs, knees and back, and vision problems can compound this, bringing down employee morale and performance.
According to the report, 70% of the employees were unhappy with their overall work environment. Workplace stress is known to be one of the major factors leading to early onset of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart problems and hypertension. A recent industry-based study indicated that nearly 78% of employees in the corporate sector sleep less than six hours a day and 21% suffered from depression. Demanding work culture, poor ergonomics and disruptive work areas are some of the chief contributors to high-stress levels.
In a country slowly drifting into a workaholic culture with employees clocking in more than 52 hours of work per week on an average, it is essential to instil a healthy work environment that transcends the physical (manual handling, workstation design, tools and equipment use), aesthetic (overall appeal and set-up), cognitive (control, room for human error, vigilance, etc.), and organizational (breakouts, shifts, workload, etc.) dimensions. Employees need to feel that their company cares about their holistic well-being.
Engaging the senses
Experiential ergonomics encompasses all these aspects to offer employees a synergistic ecosystem which allows space to foster individual ideas. An employee’s experience begins as soon as they enter the office. Therefore, it is essential to represent a uniquely inspiring journey at the very beginning so that they truly cherish their time at work. The first impression any workplace leaves on an employee, after all, is a lasting one and influences future productivity and retention. For example, Pune-based Northern Trust takes pride in displaying a huge anchor, the brand’s logo, at the very entrance. This not only increases brand recall with partners and clients but also sets the tone for employees and all others entering the workplace.
The visual tone and feel of an office space depend on many factors such as the colour of furniture, warm/vibrant lighting, and the texture of walls. Each part of the office requires a different ambience for the intended usage of that space. For instance, a common area may be an earthly pastel tone with a splash of contrasting colours while meeting rooms may be soothing colours to neutralize a potentially intense atmosphere.
Designers play with textures, materials, colours, hues and intensity while keeping the purpose of each space in mind to achieve optimum results. Use of different textures and finishes on furniture, flooring and walls along with alternative seating arrangements across the office can add to the intended variety and vibrancy.
To complete the picture, apart from visual and acoustic drama, a workplace needs to appeal to the senses of taste and smell as well. Office space designers are experimenting with different ways of enticing the sense of smell, for instance, placing a work cafe at the entrance with a live Barista emanating cafe-style aroma of coffee. Another great way to foster socialisation and promote overall positivity among employees is providing them with common rooms that are relaxing and friendly. Shifting from the traditional pantry system, corporates are giving employees breakout rooms on each floor with gaming & recreation, as well as alternative menu options like healthy food.
Many offices have a quiet room dedicated to meditation to promote mental wellbeing. The presence of greenery has the potential to improve not only aesthetics but also air quality. Indoor plants, desktop planters, communal green features like green walls and vertical gardens can be placed at strategic spots. Such features add to the pleasant and relaxing nature of the workplace along with boosting air circulation indoors.
Customization is the gamechanger
Since every human being relies on their various senses in varying degrees, it is ideal to develop a work environment that can be adapted to the needs of the individual occupying that space. In this sense, the design should be flexible enough to adapt to employees’ needs rather than making employees adapt to its dimensions. Basic office ergonomics talks about employee posture and comfort and includes proper monitor positioning, spinal support, arm and wrist support and footrest design. However, innovative design ideas lead to customisation of those elements to create a space that suits that individual such as bespoke cubicles designed to suit different types of work are also gaining popularity. For example, workstations come with a unique design that can extend into a partial cubicle or with a height-adjustable wall that allows more privacy for in-depth work or a low-walled open cubicle for coordinated teamwork, all at the touch of a button.
And if you are bored of your cubicle, you can go to a different work area that suits your mood. New-age corporate offices like Northern Trust offer their workers alternate workspaces, each having a different appeal, exclusively designed to beat the monotony. When it comes to office space customization, everything from air conditioner setting to the ambient lighting, ventilation and spatial directions matters. If one team member likes the air-conditioner at 22 degree Celsius, their neighbour may need a jacket. Office space designers are using technology to improvise and customize many things from temperature settings that an individual employee prefers to how they like their cup of coffee from the moment they clock in at work.
While there is automation available to control ceiling lights according to the time of the day, automatic optimal lighting adjusts the monitor brightness and contrast as per indoor lighting. There are automated window blinds that open and close depending on the amount of sunlight. While customizing, offices must keep the differently-abled in mind. For example, exclusive parking spaces for people with special needs is commonly seen in corporate buildings. Some thoughtful companies are using specially constructed artwork and braille-based directions to help the visually impaired to navigate.
Acoustic customization such as soundproof walls around workstation cabinets and meeting rooms is a common sight. Innovation is trickling in in the form of soothing music in lobbies and individual calling booths for phone and video conferences that offer enhanced privacy.
Ergonomics and thoughtfully designed workspaces are critical for greater employee productivity and well-being. Leading corporate houses are going a step ahead, using technological innovation to steer employee and client experience to new heights. Besides promoting a mindful transition into the millennial corporate culture, these happy workplaces also serve as a carrot to attract new talent. There can be so much more to a swanky new office lobby than meets the eye. As for innovation, we are just getting started.
(The author is Regional Managing Director, Space Matrix India. Views expressed are personal.)