Category Archives: Workplace

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, stevemaslin.bud@gmail.com and via stevemaslin.wordpress.com

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.

 

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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.

Savvy?

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.

Illusions?

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..?

Contact?

Steve Maslin RIBA, NRAC Consultant, FSI

Email: stevemaslin.bud@gmail.com

www.schumacherinstitute.org.uk/people/steve-maslin/

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.

Research

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  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seasonal_affective_disorder.

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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circadian_rhythms.  The discipline of Environmental Psychology has also carried out studies into the relationship between people’s wellbeing and their connectivity to the natural environment.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_psychology.  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 http://www.breeam.org/BREEAM2011SchemeDocument/.  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

W: www.buildinguserdesignsolutions.co.uk

W: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=59574997&trk=spm_pic

Research Fellow the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems

W: www.schumacherinstitute.org.uk/node/120

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?

IMG_3071.JPG
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 http://h-m-g.com/projects/daylighting/summaries%20on%20daylighting.htm),
– 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 http://news.nd.edu/news/27476-walking-through-doorways-causes-forgetting-new-research-shows/).

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 www.sensoryintegration.com.uk). 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.