The open office is the worst. We know.
There’s a reason we wrote a letter about it.
The layout has fallen from the good graces of employees everywhere. Initially meant to promote collaboration and transparency, open office layouts have become a cesspool of noise, distractions and stress.
With poor design, comes miserable employees. Too often, open offices are designed without promoting the health and well-being of those who inhabit and are expected to be productive within it. While it may not be possible to completely overhaul an office, there are key steps for how employers can reduce stress in the workplace.
“Every $1 investment in mental health promotion has a $3 to $5 return on investment, there are significant economic implications of America’s currently high levels of absenteeism, presenteeism, and lost productivity resulting from mental disorders.” - One Mind at Work
From the depths of the open office emerges a ‘heaven for staff’
There's a reason SINA Corporation’s Beijing Headquarters is said to be a “Heaven for Staff”. They designed the office with employees’ physical, emotional and mental wellness as their top priority. A bit more on this ‘heavenly’ space:
“The 32,300-square-foot facility accommodating over 6,000 employees offers many specialized areas where staff members can reenergize, take breaks, maintain healthy lifestyle choices and self-care rituals, or tend to non-professional needs. The project is an optimal example of how a workspace can meet employees in the sometimes gray area between work and life.”
SINA Corp is a great example of how workplace wellness and health promotion can be prioritized in office design. While it’s not feasible for every workplace to go through a complete design overhaul, here are some solutions you can use in your office today to make your workplace more comfortable for your employees.
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Design ideas to promote wellness in your workplace
1) Introduce activity-based working principles
The open office is here to stay. Many of the psychological phenomena plaguing the current workforce are caused by the anxiety associated with the traditional open-office layout: a big room filled with identical desks, no privacy and an abundance of unwanted noise. Autonomy, privacy and a renewed sense of pride can be established by offering employees a variety of workspaces in activity-based working models. Employees can work how they want, where they want when they want.
2) Establish clear office policies
Whether it’s a policy on how to share desks, how to work remotely or an outline for which spaces are meant for socializing and which are not, policies are crucial to establishing a functional workspace. Clear expectations help alleviate anxiety around typically stressful inflection points in the office be that conference room scheduling etiquette or how much time off is really the acceptable amount. With clear boundaries, employees can fill in the dots with their individual needs much more readily.
3) Design with comfort in mind
This can mean a couple of different things. First, when designing with employee wellness in mind, try to use natural light, biophilic accents and textures that feel natural and calming. Offer different soft seating options throughout the office and make sure every employee has access to work in areas with windows. Additionally, to maximize comfort, measure the utilization of your office space. In doing this, you’ll know how employees are actually using your office space and know what kind of spaces you should duplicate, recreate or consider in future office design projects.
There are many considerations to make when promoting employee mental health and well-being in the workplace. While there’s no all-encompassing approach to alleviate every psychological ailments in the open office layout, there are steps you can take now to make your space a more enjoyable place to be and protect from the common causes of stress in the workplace. Empowerment, clean boundaries and comfortable design are a great place to start to create an office culture oriented around making the office bend for your employees -- not the other way around.
Looking for tips to accommodate introverts, extroverts, absenteeism or presenteeism in your office? Read our related post here