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The role of mindfulness in workplace design

Mijail Gutierrez, Principal at Perkins and Will London, discusses the role architects and designers play in creating places that nurture productivity and happiness.

20/04/2020 3 min read

Happiness and headspace

With the advent of social distancing in recent months, it’s worth reflecting on how open the public discussion around mental health has come. While stigma still remains, the awareness of mental issues in the UK has grown exponentially, with businesses taking decisive steps to address and improve the mental and physical health of their employees.

Yet, while company culture and corporate wellbeing strategies are essential for supporting employees’ mental health, architects and designers have a role to play in creating places that nurture productivity and happiness.

It’s true that for the majority of the year, mental health is a significant problem across the UK’s workplaces, with one in six workers experiencing depression, anxiety or problems relating to stress, according to Mental Health First Aid. These issues have both an emotion and economic cost, causing the loss of approximately 72 million working days which cost companies a whopping £34.9 billion each year to our companies.

Offices should be places of hard-work and challenging situations, but to be truly productive they should also foster a sense of mindfulness, relaxation and wellbeing – all key components in making us feel happier and healthier.

Mindfulness offers a way to be truly present and comfortable in our surroundings, something which as a designer, I aspire to implement in every project I undergo. High quality workplace design should engage with the senses and encourage employees to reconnect with themselves, gaining a better understanding of their own work processes as a result.

Productivity and focus are best achieved when employees are physically and mentally connected to their surroundings, through comfortable and calming workspaces.

Like our design for Mix Design Collective last year, mindfulness in design must capture calm and stress-free ambience through a whole range of features that incorporate sight, sound, activity, and nature. The colours that we see, and subsequently the art that we display in our offices can have a significant impact on our wellbeing. According to research by the American Psychological Association, colours such as red and yellow have been shown to increase anxiety, while blues and greens have a more calming effect. Variety is important to inspire and focus the brain, but it is also key that the placing of certain colours within offices is considered carefully to avoid undue stress and distraction.

Green, particularly, is essential when we’re considering the impact of nature. According to research by Nieuwenhuis and colleagues, enriching a previously lean office with plants significantly increases workplace satisfaction, boosting productivity and creativity up to 15 percent. Engaging with nature through biophilic design, fresh air and natural light connects us back to our environment and can open our minds to our creative and inspirational faculties.

Our minds also occasionally need to switch off from technology to truly focus and reduce the problems that long periods of screen time can induce. Offices should include tech-free zones to support the balance between work and life, but employers also have a part to play in this by encouraging regular breaks, as well as offering exercise opportunities to address this.

Meditation, yoga and tai-chi are all activities that can encourage mindfulness and by designing a shared exercise space, employers will not only encourage a healthier physical and mental state, but also team communication and bonding.

But when back at work, furniture also has to be designed to support the physical shape of our bodies. Chairs and desks should all be ergonomically designed and adjustable in order to suit the range of needs of our diverse workforce, alongside the use of comfortable, tactile materials to keep them in touch with their physical surroundings.

Mindfulness in design is not about subscribing to an Instagram trend nor is it about ignoring the need for hard work. Productivity and focus are best achieved when employees are physically and mentally connected to their surroundings, through comfortable and calming workspaces. It is about creating places for people – places that they can thrive in, be inspired and enjoy attending every day of the year. And as designers, it is our role to create beautiful places that embody that work-mind balance.



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