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Feeling down and unmotivated at work? Insights show that it’s the space you’re in

  • Written by Angela Ferguson, Managing Director, and Co-Founder of Future X Collective

It may come as a surprise, but over your lifetime you will spend an average of 90,000 hours on the job, according to data in the study, Happiness at Work1. This will likely equate to a whopping one-third of your life, between the ages of 18 years to 68 years.

The hybrid world has changed how much time we spend in the office, and now small businesses are being pushed to take a leading role in addressing the issues of mental health and be active in designing spaces that bolster productivity, engagement and ultimately, happiness.

With burnout and anxiety on the rise globally, employers need to take a fresh look at the physical design of their office. Research by Oxford University found that happy workers are 13% more productive, so investing in a workspace which aligns with employee needs and drives wellbeing, is also a positive investment into business revenue and retention in a global talent shortage.

Our studies show that extended time in a poor or unstimulating working environment will have a long-term impact on an employee’s mental health.

While gym memberships, free lunches and development programs have an important place in the workplace, it is the physical environment which has the greatest impact on productivity, engagement, and happiness.

If small businesses want to see employees back in the office, even for just for 2-3 days, they need to look beyond putting a pot plant in the corner to create an ‘atmosphere’. We have devised our key workplace design tips that will drive engagement and long-term wellbeing amongst workers:

  1. Enjoy the outdoors indoors

Office interiors that embrace biophilia (a human’s innate instinct to connect with the natural world) can help to reduce stress levels and have a positive impact on the well-being of the employees. This is achieved with simple natural materials, fresh air, natural light, planting and greenery, and organic forms. This, however, must be more than just one window in an office or a vase of flowers in the conference room.

Using green walls that ‘breathe’, hanging plants, organic materials like wood or stone, textured carpets which mimic the natural landscape and incorporating atriums, are easy ways to connect nature to the workplace.

  1. Colour is more than meets the eye

Colour is a powerful communication tool, which can influence our mood and impact performance. The way colour impacts us tends to be universal rather than subjective, meaning certain colours will trigger certain emotions in all humans.

While, of course, we still use colour as a stylistic choice, savvy business owners will draw on the psychology of colours to trigger positive moods in customers or use certain colours to reflect company values.

In the design of a leading professional services firm, PwC, Future X Collective employed colour combinations which resonated with the organisation’s commitment to thinking and innovation. The leading colour of gold reflected PwC’s wealth of knowledge and ongoing legacy, while the use of deep green in collaborative spaces aided to trigger learning, growth, and harmony.

  1. Cater for the neurotypical

For many years humans designed office spaces which were only conducive to neurotypical people. Now with more research conducted into neurodivergent thinking, workplaces must cater for different types of employees’ workstyles and neurodiverse conditions. Employers have recognised that embracing this level of diversity can in fact provide a huge benefit to an organisation through building a more neurodiverse staff.

This requires a range of spaces, including cosy, quiet rooms for people who are easily overwhelmed or overstimulated, and larger open social spaces for employees who thrive on social interaction. It also requires the provision of a workplace that reduces distraction, has different lighting levels, can be navigated intuitively and controls sensory stimulation.

Workplaces should provide a sense of safety and support for all employees, so if this means changing elements of your physical design to suit different people’s needs, it’s a worthwhile investment for long-term attraction and retention.

  1. Invest in your physical set-up

We are spending longer times at our desks, on back-to-back virtual meetings, often without breaks or incidental exercise that we would normally have had through travel or the daily commute.

To improve the ergonomics within your workplace, it is important to consider the basics such as ensuring all seating – especially lounges, sofas and other more domestic-style seating is at the right height for working on laptops or viewing screens. Screen sizes, adjustable monitor arms, laptop stands and ergonomic task seating at each individual desk are essential. Provision of accessories such as standing height desks and community/collaborative settings can also play an important role in ensuring optimal physical posture and maximising opportunities for movement.

1 Happiness and Productivity’ by Andrew J Oswald, Eugenio Proto and Daniel Sgroi, 2009

By Angela Ferguson, Managing Director, and Co-Founder of Future X Collective


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