6 June 2017 | Steve Maslin
Workplace is the context in which we expect people and their minds to function - but are we taking account of the impact that the sensory environment has on people's minds?
It is not uncommon to find workplace design decisions resolving around simplistic imagery or cost savings. Could we better inform the design process by a greater awareness of the user experience? How many employees or customers are stressed or at risk of leaving the journey you are taking them on?
A sales pitch might include words like "trendy" or "value engineered" but are we actually removing real lasting value - derived from how people experience the business environments you design or operate? You might even, make reference to terms such as "lean", "agile", "smart" or "activity based" workplace or equivalent trendy retail strategies. But are you creating an illusion?
How about stepping back from these trendy terms for a moment and paying attention to what your senses (and the senses of those about you) are telling you? What could your senses be telling you about your work environment? Did you also know that much of that which takes place as a consequence of our senses is not in the realm of our sensory organs but in how our brains function whilst processing sensory information? How effectively do our brains function then if our senses are struggling with the environment that we find ourselves in?
Take an opportunity to step back and spend time in the workplaces you are designing or your employees or customers are using? You may already be one of those 'captains of industry' who work among your staff. Is the sensory experience that you and those around you are exposed to conducive to you doing effective work? Maybe, you can cope, at least for a time - but how about others? Are you all the same?
How about those who tirelessly work on thankless tasks requiring great concentration, but our stressed out by the environment they are working in? Chances are you'll find out a lot by just talking to colleagues. You might find it a struggle for a start, because you may have managed them subconsciously without stopping to think what is actually happening. It might even help if you listen to people with accentuated experiences.
We can deduce from what we know of sensory and physiological needs that interactive, adjustable and comfortable chairs and tables are necessary if we are to expect workers to function fully, as are optimised acoustics, good background lighting and good task lighting.
But what are the neurological reasons and what else is there that we could be doing? For example, could we being taking more care of how we arrange, inhabit and treat space and do more to foster the curious relationship between productivity, memory and our visual field?
Steve is director of Building User Design, an architect, a Design Council CABE Built Environment expert and senior research fellow at the Schumacher Institute