The latest issue of 360 Magazine explores “The Creative Shift”—the notion that creativity is becoming an increasingly vital part of work as business problems become more complex.
Forward-thinking companies know they can’t cost-cut their way to growth, the cover story says. They need competitive breakthroughs, and “it’s this drive for innovation, in increasingly complex conditions, that is causing a macro shift toward more creative work.”
Clearing the way for creativity—encouraging workers to make the most of their inherent inventiveness—requires a fundamental culture change for many organizations. A big part of the solution is designing the physical office environment to support workers’ emotional wellbeing so their creativity can thrive.
“When people are in environments that support positive emotions, they’re free to be productive, collaborative and creative,” said Beatriz Arantes, a senior researcher at Steelcase who co-led a worker wellbeing study.
Creativity can’t blossom when people are in high-stress mode, she said. “Creative work is all about making connections, being open to new ideas, taking risks and experimenting. These behaviors are impossible in a stressed state of mind.”
Designers have a significant role to play in shaping a workplace that supports positive emotions and alleviates stress.
Here are four ways office design can contribute to workers’ emotional wellbeing:
1. Provide a variety of settings, including solo spaces. In a creative business culture, the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. People feel their best and give their best when they can choose the setting that matches their needs throughout the day. That means providing a variety of enclaves and breakout spaces for people to claim when they need time alone.
“When they have choices, employees have a sense of control that helps them feel more empowered, engaged and less stressed,” said Nicolas de Benoist, a Steelcase researcher who studies worker wellbeing.
Emotionally supportive offices include comfortable spaces for focus and rejuvenation, like this relaxing Massaud Lounge.
2. Integrate communal spaces for collaboration and social connection. Creative projects often involve an ebb and flow of group work and solo work, where people come together to generate ideas and then retreat to refine ideas individually before gathering once again. The emotionally supportive workplace therefore needs to do a great job of providing well-equipped group workspaces.
Communal settings also serve as natural spaces for relationships to form and flourish—important in this context because social connections are another key element of emotional health and engagement at work.
And by providing a rich variety of work settings, companies encourage physical movement—from sitting to standing, from inside to outside —which also has payoffs for emotional health.
3. Apply biophilic design principles. Designers who pay attention to the growing field of biophilic design know that people get an emotional boost from exposure to nature. More designers are therefore incorporating natural elements into the workplace.
Reduced stress, improved recovery rates from stressful situations and improved air quality are three health benefits that result from bringing nature into the office, researchers say.
Recognizing this, Coalesse has introduced a series of biophilic patterns, textures and colors that can be applied to products as “triggers … that will create a deeper emotional experience,” said John Hamilton, director of design.
This nature-centric space in our NeoCon 2017 showroom, with custom Millbrae Contract bench, lets visitors tap into the restorative effects of greenery. The bench features a biophilic fabric pattern that references the irregularity of nature.
4. Welcome the light. A fourth way to promote emotional wellbeing in the office is to provide ample access to natural light. In addition to placing work settings near skylights and windows, design teams can create welcoming outdoor spaces for individuals and teams. There’s no shortage of studies, such as this one, showing that natural light in the office brightens our mood and ups our energy levels.
For more workplace design concepts, see our Planning Ideas.