Category Archives: Facilities Management

Working Sensationally

Working Sensationally imageUnderstanding the role of senses in workplace design

Drop-in and meet Steve Maslin on 24th May, during Clerkenwell Design Week, at Edge Design/ Pledge Chair’s Showroom First Floor, 21-22 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 0DY

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?

Step Back

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 within?

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 amongst 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.   As such, it might even help if you listen to individuals with accentuated experiences.

Design Opportunities

We can deduct 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?

Call in:

Steve Maslin will be available to draw on insights gained from his look at the relationship between the design of built environments and people’s physical sensory and neurological needs on 24th May, during Clerkenwell Design Week, at Edge Design/ Pledge Chair’s Showroom First Floor, 21-22 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 0DY.   He is also contactable on: 07825 447709, and via

About Steve

Steve is known for blogging, teaching and conferences speaking for conference, such as Workplace Trends, on the relationship between the people, their minds and their environments. Clients have included BskyB, HEFCE, BUPA and Parliamentary Estates. He will be available to meet those interested in exploring the issues.  Steve is Director of Building User Design, an Architect, a Design Council CABE Built Environment Expert and Senior Research Fellow at the Schumacher Institute.



Enabling Education

A Call for Strategic Education Design Thinking

SchoolThe voice of concern regarding provision for children with additional needs seems to have been somewhat eclipsed in recent months by the debate as to whether all our schools should become academies or not. However there was, not so long ago, significant concern when the coalition Government implemented their model flat pack school design. In part this was because the design fell short of standards that we would expect of inclusive school provision.  Before that there was also concern as to what form additional / special educational provision should take.  None of these concerns have particularly gone away!

Does the Government understand the issues sufficiently in order to improve opportunities for children who, for one reason or another, find education a struggle?

Thinking Strategically

In my professional life I have conducted numerous suitability surveys and access reviews of educational premises, including mainstream and special schools. In many cases I have seen a lack of strategic thinking. Although I am an Architect and now a Consultant Member of the National Register of Access Consultants, for 6 years I was previously employed by social services as a supply Group-worker.  Having worked with adults with learning difficulties I observed the deficit in social education that some adults with and without learning difficulties have acquired as a result of being educated separately when they were children.  We need to think strategically and beyond utilitarian, piecemeal responses to the issues if we are ever to provide all children with appropriate facilities staffed by appropriately qualified teachers.

Mainstream Inclusion v Special Schools

On one hand, some have believed that the policy of educating children with additional educational needs in mainstream schools has failed. Some even hold that including children with additional educational needs (particularly children with autism) in mainstream classrooms can lead to “a form of abuse” through a form of unintended educational neglect.  At the same time, many in the broader disability rights movement have campaigned for greater inclusion in mainstream schools and have accused special schools of failing their students.  It seems obvious that both options have their problems and don’t seem to be providing children with adequate learning facilities.  Some parents are forced to decide which alternative would be better for their child.  Others aren’t even fortunate enough to have a choice, as there may not be enough specialist schools in their area. The National Autistic Society said in 2008 that of the 90,000 autistic children at the time, most had to learn in mainstream schools as there were just 7,500 specialist places.  Yet, historically, special schools have struggled to provide the level of curriculum-based staff and practical resources that mainstream schools are able to provide and have also struggled to prepare students for the mainstream world owing to a lack of social opportunities that “segregated” education has led to.  Conversely the lack of support, resourcing and specialist facilities within mainstream education has made the provision for additional educational needs within mainstream schools that much harder.

Personal Experience of Enabling Education

Over 40 years ago my parents were told by my infant school head teacher that of the two children they had at the school at the time – “one would go far and don’t expect too much of the other one”. The “other one” was me!  However, my parents recognised that there was more to my difficulties and sought out additional help.  Known to one dyslexia pioneer, as “one of the early boys”, I benefited from early diagnosis and an open-minded junior school head teacher who was willing to learn about dyslexia.  I eventually received the support I needed within the mainstream junior school I attended – together with other children, who were also struggling.

Struggling without Adequate Facilities

A few years later, that same junior school that I went to was approached by a local hospital asking whether children with Spina Bifida could be taught at the school rather than at the hospital. The school agreed but were not provided with the appropriate facilities associated with incontinence that some of the children experienced! It took some careful political manoeuvring to obtain local authority support to address this issue!  You would have hoped that with the arrival of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act and the Later Equality Act those things would have improved!  But despite all the best efforts of some, we’re still having the same concerns in more recent times, that we had over a quarter of a century ago, such as “staffs are emptying tracheostomy tubes or changing nappies, often lacking appropriate training.” (Reference: BBC News Item Tuesday, 16 May 2006).

Many have grave concerns with regards the Government’s approach to school design. One perceives that the children that will suffer are the ones with additional needs!  Then we wonder why poor working cultures develop in our institutions that we all know should have been consigned to history.  (Reference: Our children and teachers deserve better: RIBA slams Gove’s flat pack approach to designing future schools; 02 October 2012).

Hubs and Co-location Satellites

Despite the failures cited above, providing adequate facilities doesn’t require a special school separate from mainstream education. There is a much better solution which involves combining the benefits of both types of school in the form of properly thought out co-location.  However, it necessitates maintaining and not diminishing the standards for school design as seems to be currently happening.

The risk is that inclusive provision in mainstream schools will be undertaken as a tokenistic gesture without substance and appropriate provision, leading to parents having to seek out alternatives to mainstream provision. It is however possible to design an approach to additional educational needs, that provides both the specialist facilities of a special school together with strong physical and organisational integration within a mainstream school.   Perhaps the most effective organisational structure consists of a central support hub (containing both senior and mobile staff) to assist satellite bases with their own specialist staff.  These bases then support the mainstream schools to which they are affiliated.  Obviously, the mainstream schools need to be carefully considered for their ease of access, transport links and educational ethos.  Each satellite can be geared to a particular group of pupils offering support for their particular need whether; physical, visual, hearing, neurological, language, emotional, behavioural or social.  The support hub(s) can even be based in one or more of the mainstream schools within the network of support.

The hub and satellite set-up works very well and enables children to venture into the ‘mainstream world’ – offering opportunities for them and other pupils to benefit both socially and educationally. If however, a child needs greater support than the mainstream environment can offer alone then there is no reason for not adjusting the child’s timetable to receive more specialist support in a supportive and specialist satellite base. In addition, mainstream teachers are provided with the necessary specialist support that enables them to attend to the class as a whole without neglecting the child with additional needs.

In essence the strategy is the equivalent of providing a special school within a mainstream school. This is sometimes referred as co-locating.  However, it is important that they are seen as one entity so as not to reinforce differences – even if there is an internal sub-division, linked by a door – for the purposes of providing children (with any social, emotional and/or behavioural difficulties) space in which their needs can be met.

Examples of Co-located Inclusion

Some forward thinking schools have already moved towards this method of teaching. Kingsweston School, Bristol has a satellite base for autistic students with the local Oasis Academy in Shirehampton.  This initiative is part of the mainstream school but provides specialist facilities and staff.  It was envisaged that some student’s will spend a significant amount of their time within the mainstream environment, whereas some children with more severe difficulties will spend most of their time in the specialist satellite base.

Hazel Court School in Eastbourne is a special school for children with severe learning difficulties – 70 per cent of pupils are autistic –on the same site as a mainstream school. The school has the best of both worlds offering specialised staff and facilities such as a hydrotherapy pool, soft play area, access to two dining halls, an assembly hall, sports facilities and a library situated in the mainstream school.  Half the children attend lessons in the mainstream school and children from the mainstream school also help with classes in the specialist unit.

Educational Benefits for Everyone

Experience has shown that children with additional educational needs gain from learning in mainstream environments. Pupils in mainstream settings equally benefit, learning respect and acceptance, and grow up without the “awareness impairment” that many in mainstream society have developed towards others whom they perceive as different from them.  We need to start thinking strategically and begin to addresses the best of both worlds rather to argue between two extremes.

A Call for Real Inclusion

It is reported that about one child out of every five requires extra help in school because of a particular or additional educational need. However, additional/special needs are educational terms which include vastly different challenges from a language difficulty to multiple and profound difficulties.  It would be unreasonable to expect a mainstream school to provide the correct care and support for each child’s need without appropriate support and resources and equally it would be a shame to remove a child completely from the opportunity to interact with children in a mainstream setting and the opportunity to receive the education that mainstream schools can provide.  Surely by now we should recognise that the two worlds can work together.

Let’s stop debating about which form of educational management or provision is better and create environments where the best of both mainstream and special school worlds can exist together. That’s real inclusion!


Steve Maslin RIBA, NRAC Consultant, FSI


Architecture without FM = Aeronautics without Pilots

Putting the Case for Facilities Managers Influencing Design


It wouldn’t it make sense if aeronautical engineers designed aircraft without pilots.  Surely then, early involvement of FM Managers would make sense in the design of buildings?

050113-N-6363M-009 Persian Gulf (Jan. 13, 2005) Ð A pilot assigned to the ÒSwordsmenÓ of Fighter Squadron Three Two (VF-32), prepares to enter his F-14B Tomcat on the flight deck aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier and her embarked Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW-3) are providing close air support and conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions over Iraq. The Truman Carrier Strike Group is on a regularly scheduled deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism. U.S. Navy photo by PhotographerÕs Mate Airman Philip V. Morrill (RELEASED)

Photographer Õs Mate Airman Philip V. Morrill (RELEASED)

For example, post occupancy energy performances frequently fall short of their intended targets. How much better might post occupancy outcomes be if there was prior discussion? We also know that when there is a problem – it will be the Facilities Manager to whom Human Resources and Customers Services will go to resolve things. Whilst opportunities for addressing problems are limited, some Facilities Managers can win a reputation for doing what they can to the admiration of their immediate colleagues – if not the wider business.

The challenge however, is that built environments often become “set in stone,” unable to adequately facilitate the activities that go on within them – despite the best efforts of Facilities Managers.   How could we avoid this or at least make sure that what is set in stone is enabling rather than disabling?


No doubt Facilities Manages will be familiar with putting the case forward for investments in changes that bring about cost savings. Nevertheless, there is always the risk that one could be making short term cost savings that will have a term detrimental impact on less easily quantified matters and erode value over the longer term, or that you overlook other changes that could yield value. Consequently, building a case that captures value is a wise move.

So – I might ask – how many new projects do you get involved in? How might you put the case for being involved and to bring about prior discussion?    What value based insights could you bringing these projects?

Design for Operability

Conventional wisdom would tell us that that it is essential when designing ships and aircrafts to consult those who captain them and those who keep them operational? Yet it seems that too often, little consideration is given to this basic logic in building design!  The first question therefore to explore and put to a project team is whether past projects, that Facilities Managers have then had to manage, were fit for purpose and whether their designers took account of, not only costs and operational factors, but the opportunities that could have arisen from the application of foresight?

Putting forward a Dynamic Case

A dictionary definition of dynamic is: “(of a process or system) characterised by constant change, activity or progress.” How might you put a dynamic case that includes the things that niggle you in your daily work, but stretches deeper and further?

The definition for “dynamic” implies a “process or system” being in place. Let me suggest however, that when you start looking at an issue, that you break free from just seeing what you bring  as being about process only and start seeing a system of interconnected subjects for which you and others in the business are responsible but where you could be the vital link?

The challenge is to bring a case that persuades not only your business leaders, but also the project design team. You will therefore need to bring value to what designers refer to as the Brief Development stages of a project.  Yes costs and operational insight are important and indeed vital.  But value to the business isn’t solely derived from costs savings.  Real value is much more dynamic than this and can inspire business leaders and design teams if communicated well.

Sustainability and Systems Thinking

What so often hinders adequate brief development is narrow and blinkered thinking. No-one is immune from this, and whilst Facilities Managers are strategically placed, narrow thinking can still creep in from your comfort zone – unless you are prepared to up your game.  The antidote, in part, is systems thinking. In simple terms, it is joined-up thinking, bringing people around the table to gather perspectives.

Meanwhile, few business cases can now be put forward at board level without reference to sustainability. However, do businesses really know what we mean by this?  Perhaps we are at risk of “green badging” dysfunctional environments that are hardly sustainable?  How might we therefore start to open up a broader systems-thinking approach to sustainability?

The Future

Sometimes’ we might be forgiven for thinking that sustainability conveys a notion of constancy. However, change will come; and as such, sustainability thinking also means engaging with this change.

We cannot always predict change but we can start to anticipate possibilities via exploring scenarios. For those of you who are keen to keep clear of disaster, you might refer to this as being about disaster preparedness and business recovery. Nevertheless, could it be about more than this?

Productive Work-Enabling Facilities

Many of the challenges that you are likely to encounter, as a Facilities Manager, involve interactions between people (whether staff, customers, clients or service users) and your facilities. As such, you might be tempted to think that people are the problem and that they make the running your facilities difficult; and yet true business or organisational value is not had from the facilities you manage, but from the people that occupy them.  After all, what does “facility” imply other than to “facilitate” the activity of occupants?  Despite this, there is a growing sense that many workplace designs are not working for those that use them.  How might you seek to address this?

One of the biggest reasons therefore, for Facilities Managers getting in at the Pre-Design and Design stages of a project is to pay proper attention to how well facilities work for their intended occupants. You may be sold trendy design concepts such as “smart” or “agile” working, but do you know what the impacts are on employee performance and productivity?    This is where a clued up Facilities Manager can make sure that the right advice is sought.  People such as the author of this article are able to share insights as to how some supposedly “trendy” designs can become dysfunctional and demonstrate the value of seeking the right advice.

Connectivity, BIM and Soft Landings

It is not uncommon for built environment and information environment design projects to run separately. You might be inclined to think that these two environments are being integrated, as you see IT systems going into the environments that you manage.  However, it’s always worth taking a step back and asking some searching questions.

How will what is proposed make use of Building Information Modelling / Management to the best effect? How will an information cycle be achieved in furtherance of Soft Landings?  What information is being put in at the beginning of the cycle to start with?  What provision is in place for people visiting and using your facilities?


Many projects suffer from a lack of input from Facilities Managers in the early stages and yet we need to make sure that in seeking an input, project value is not sacrificed by confusing it with cost savings. Facilities Managers could, however, bring a dynamic, forward thinking approach.    Could such an approach be career changing?  Well it could be.  Engaging in these issues could get you a promotion.  But let’s perhaps take stock and review what it could mean to you in your current role…?

New Course called “Influencing New Projects”

If you are interested, I will be running a new course for BIFM called “Influencing New Projects” on the 11 May 2016 and 29 November 2016 in London at a venue to be announced see:

We will be offering strategies for FM getting in both at Pre-Design and Design Stages – informed by a dynamic set of subjects that should be of concern to Facilities Managers and Designers alike. I will be drawing on my experience as an Architect, Director of Building User Design, Senior Research Fellow at the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems, BRE Global Standing Panel of Experts member, and steering group contributor to several British Standards on FM

If you want to make enquiries about the course please contact me:

Steve Maslin RIBA NRAC Consultant, Director of Building User Design


or BIFM  Tel: 020 7248 5942 or 020 7489 7628



Leadership: Are you flying?

FlyingI’m told that it’s essential to understand what the numbers tell you when flying and that without reading what your instruments are telling that you can easily deceive yourself as to your whereabouts.   However flying also requires being attuned to what one’s senses are telling you. I believe that workplace leadership is similar. For example, when Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed his stricken aircraft on the Hudson River, he will no doubt have looked as his instruments but he was also attuned to what was necessary to make the necessary decisions.


Gerd Gigerenzer’s “Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions” makes interesting reference to this incident. He also draws attention to the need to not only understand what numbers are telling you but what they won’t necessarily tell you or what you could have reasonably deduced from using your senses not only in emergencies but also over time.   Gerd even illustrates how poor understanding of figures and insufficient attention to good judgment, can even create curious and potentially dangerous illusions, as can – not paying attention to numbers. Read what he says about the “turkey illusion!” Yes numbers are important but what are the numbers in front of you (and how you are reading them) not telling you?

OK, so your business might not be heading for a dramatic crash, but how many of your employees or customers are equivalent to being airsick, cramped, stressed or at risk of leaving the journey you are taking them on? Despite this, it seems that many workplace decisions resolve around simplistic figures derived from capital cost savings and not value derived from those doing the work in the place that they have been provided with.


Could you be creating an illusion for yourself? For example, capital costs tend to be easier to calculate than revenue value – especially value derived from wellbeing. Nevertheless, common sense tells us that even a moderate long term improvements have the potential for paying for themselves and not just in direct and easily quantifiable terms.   Despite this, how many times has one paid attention to short term savings – rather than what one’s senses are saying? Next time perhaps when someone offers to “value engineer” a project for you, you might consider whether what they may actually be doing is removing value and actually only engineering cost?

You might say, “ah but Steve, our business is flying with the current trends of workplace strategy.” You might even, make reference to trendy workplace terms such as “lean”, “agile”, “smart” or “activity based” workplace strategies that your advisors have told you about.   However, is what you are getting still an illusion? Are you in reality following a predetermined course set by others?

Using Your Senses?

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? I’m not advocating that you ignore figures – indeed they are very important, but again – what is the particular set of figures in front of you not telling you?

Apparently one particular aircraft was designed with a performance range that equated with the straight line distance to a particular destination, but that it was not effective in service. This was because its range did not take account of operational circumstances that would prevent straight line flight to its destination. Measures of effectiveness (informed by what one’s senses are telling you) whilst requiring more thought than simplistic and limited performance measurements will usually yield important and more profound business insights.

Understanding Your Senses?

What could your hearing, sight, touch, smell and even taste be telling you about your work environment? Did you know that we also have sensory functions to do with time, position and balance as well? You might imagine that most of these senses are important to flying aircraft, but have you stopped to think about their impact on work? 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 and integrating sensory information?

How effectively do our brains function then if our senses are struggling with the environment that we are working with? I would suggest that it’s worth reading “Living Sensationally: Understanding Your Senses,” by Winnie Dunn to understand more of this subject.

Understanding Others?

Might I suggest that you take the opportunity to step off of your “flight deck” and spend time in the workplaces your employees or customers are using? You may already be one of those captains of industry / organisation who work amongst 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? What about the diversity of staff?

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 taken your senses for granted – since you may have managed them subconsciously without stopping to think what is actually happening.   As such, it might even help if you take on board individuals with accentuated experiences… and not just sensory but physical ones too.

Gaining Insight?

Take my Research Director at the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems, Michael Clinton for example, who has used a wheelchair from childhood; oh – and by the way – happens to be an aeronautically trained engineer and held a pilot’s licence! If you were being honest about stereotypes, you might have easily assumed otherwise!? Even so, I too could also shed some light on challenges that I have faced, even though these experiences wouldn’t be immediately evident to you by just looking at me – only by getting to know me.

Because of these experiences, Michael and I have taken one of his aeronautical discipline’s terms – that describes a set of criteria expected of an aircraft to keep it in the sky – the “Envelope of Performance.”   We have come up with what we might describe as the Clinton-Maslin “Envelope of Need.”

You might have heard of the Maslow “Hierarchy of Need,” however the Clinton-Maslin “Envelope of Need” is different if not similar sounding, in that it’s about refereeing to the people’s accentuated and acute experiences and applying it to the design of built environments and services to the benefit of all. What is more, in the workplace context identifying an “Envelope of Need” is also likely to identify insights into effectiveness and not just performance.

Economics as if People Matter?

Still not convinced that taking notice of what your senses are telling you have anything with the economics of your business? Did you see the “Credit Crunch” coming?   Were you aware that E.F. Schumacher, the economist and author of ”Small is Beautiful, a study of economics as if people mattered” identified the unsustainable activities that would ultimately to lead to the “Credit Crunch”, decades ago? What did his book advocate? Essentially it was this: to take on economic activity “as if people mattered”… I rest my case.

Where now?

So what can you do about this? Well, I my Research Director and others within the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems network include attention to the “People Matter” part of work life. Our network includes those specialising in facilities management, human resources, organisation, design, communication, occupational psychology, sustainability etc.

Ultimately we can tailor what we do around you and your organisation to work on that which has impact on real value and how you brand sits within the market place.

For example, I undertake stakeholder engagement, property/service design reviews and can advise you on project briefs and designs from the perspective of the users. I can also arrange for sensory awareness training to help you and your staff better understand how senses affect how you, your employees and customers function.

Others in are network are able: to devise controlled experiments; risk assess human factors; advise you on organisation and sustainability; or take change and design forward.

Over to you: what do you want to do and how might we be of help..?


Steve Maslin RIBA, NRAC Consultant, FSI


Clear as Daylight?

eyeValuing daylight and views

Many office, industrial and retail premises are deep plan buildings, and whilst some have views out and an element of daylight can be achieved, the question could be  posed – what are the benefits of daylight?  At the same time it seems prudent to also ask the question – what is the value of views?  This is because one suspects that daylight alone may not be the only determinant factor as to the value of openings in the envelope of deep plan buildings.

Anecdotal Evidence

On two occasions when I have visited deep plan premises, the most notable observations made employees related to daylight and views out. One member of staff expressed how much she found having no visual connection with the outside world depressing and that when she worked nights, she found that the disconnect with the outside world and not seeing the setting and rising of the sun particularly difficult.  One might describe her comment as akin describing her experience as “doing her head in.”  Whilst visiting another deep plan building, one member of staff expressed how pleasurable it was to work in a building that provided daylight and even commented – “in how many [of the kind in question] could you look out and see sheep?”  One can surmise that from these comments pleasure and enjoyment is expressed by staff, able to achieve a connection with the outside world.  One can only suppose that this significantly affects wellbeing and motivation.


It has long been suspected that was a strong correlation between people’s wellbeing and there connection with daylight and the outside world.  In the 1980’s the seasonal mood varying effect of reduced natural lighting levels was as giving rise to the instances of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD syndrome and this

It has also been discovered that levels of alertness, within the populace in general, are biochemically interconnected with natural daily changes in light colour output  The discipline of Environmental Psychology has also carried out studies into the relationship between people’s wellbeing and their connectivity to the natural environment.  BREEAM assessments even award credits for views out of buildings in recognition of the reduction on eye strain, offered by allowing the eye to periodically re-focus on long distance views  Meanwhile, some lighting manufacturers have even developed bio-dynamic lighting containing programmable colour diodes so as to correlate with circadian rhythms and optimise human productivity.  Furthermore the work of Dr Jean Ayres  and more recently Dr Zoe Mailloux and Dr Winnie Dunn would suggest that we have differing sensory processing needs and respond to environments in different ways.  These needs include the visual sense and how they interact and integrate with other senses.  For some, these sensory processing needs are known to be more acute than others.  It also turns out that our visual field also plays an important part in our memory.    Pleasant visual fields could also quite possibly establish themselves in our longer lasting emotionally anchored memories.

What would one suggests is done?

I would suggest owners of deep plan building commission a survey of their staff and customers to elicit, what to them, are significant environmental factors affecting their wellbeing at work, whilst independently surveying their environment.  Survey exercises could be used to collate other data of benefit to businesses when considering staff wellbeing, customer experience and store design. One would suggest that such a study did not focus on lighting and views alone, as this could give rise to prompting answers to closed questions.  I would then suggest that a range of pilot projects be put into effect best practice design as deduced from academic research and staff engagement, by incorporating changes within new premises and implement changes to existing premises as and when opportunities present themselves.

What could the results of improvements be?

I would anticipate an increased sense of staff wellbeing, motivation, retention, loyalty and productivity through greater alertness and reduced risk of downward shifts in mood and mental health.  One would also suppose that which benefits staff – could also be identified as improving the customer experience either directly as a result of daylight and views or indirectly as a result of happier staff.  Implementation of changes could also further any Community and Social Responsibility agendas.


Steve Maslin RIBA NRAC Consultant

Director of Building User Design



Research Fellow the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems


Place Working vs Open Plan

“Place” is a concept often used in architecture and urban design. But how often do we apply it to our working environments?

The issue is that most open plan offices pose challenges because of the disruption to our need for “place.” I believe this is because of the sensory conditions that they tend to impose on us – which maybe is being interpreted by some as a lack of “privacy” – perhaps for want of an alternative explanation? These challenges are arguably made even worse by some of the more draconian workplace regimes that require all staff to hot desk and/or conform to clear desk policies.

The work of Dr Jean Ayres would suggest that in order to function effectively and in tune with our personal sensory integration needs, we need to be able to find a place that suites us or adjust our environment to suite.

Our needs vary – but are significantly influenced by:
– physical comfort,
– our ability (or not) to cut out extraneous noise,
– preferences for access to daylight (see,
– our commonly held preference for access to views of the natural world and…
– our need to:
– adjust artificial lighting intensity position and colour;
– adjust what is in our visual field and to reinforce a sense of familiarity and recollection to aid our memory (see

It therefore goes without saying that workplace commissioners and designers ought to be doing all they can to address or at least mitigate the challenges posed by over simplistic and deterministic workplace strategies and to engage with our all-too-human sensory processing needs. Needs which it seems that we seem to forget and not necessarily realise could be laying behind our stress levels and attrition on our productivity.

For some these needs are known to be more acute than others (see For the rest of us, these needs could be going unnoticed, since many learn to make do. But at what cost to our health and the organisations we work for?

We can deduce from what we know of sensory integration and related neurological processes that interactive, adjustable and comfortable chairs and tables are necessary if we are to expect workers to function fully, as are optimised acoustics and good background lighting combined with good task lighting. Nevertheless we also know that some workplace environments downplay the need for access to daylight and the natural world. Do we achieve good productivity without these? I doubt that we do…. Academics such as Dr Ben Wheeler of Exeter University for example, are studying the relationship between wellbeing and access to nature. WGBC’s “Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices” would also indicate that many of these issues are significant.

However, I believe it’s the curious relationship between memory and our visual field that we could be doing more to address in design. As with the act of going from one room to another tends to wipe our memories, perhaps clearing desks or the lack of constancy when hot-desking doesn’t help either? I certainly know it doesn’t help me nor others that I’ve talked to. Would it therefore make sense in environments (where workplace managers might themselves be struggling with the sensory implications of what they perceive as clutter) to utilise desks designed in a contemporary response to the bureaus of old? With such an option, employees wouldn’t need to clear desks but only need to pull covers over their work space.

In the case of hot-desking, I sincerely believe it would be very wrong to expect all workers to hot-desk without providing an alternative as some workers would find the lack of workplace predictability very stressful. Nevertheless, what might help some to maintain their sense of visual continuity and memory in workplaces is the use of personalised trollies? Such trollies could be stowed away over night, rather than expecting workers to clear desks into lockers.

In conclusion, I believe that there are many ways that we could be achieving better working environments, if only we didn’t get carried away by trendy concepts but really paid attention to people’s physical, sensory and neurological needs and the relationship between these needs – known by some as sensory integration needs.