group of exhausted business partners sleeping at office

More than 90 per cent of a person’s life is spent inside, and for most modern humans, that means working in an office. Unfortunately, workplaces are havens for decades old infrastructure that negatively affects the performance and wellbeing of workers. In this extract from his book, The Working Dead, Welnis labs founder and chief executive Nigel Hobbs explores the epidemic of unhealthy workplaces and provided a guide to surviving them.

This extract covers noise pollution in the office, and the positive impact of biophilic design on stress levels.

You Need To Hear This.

A University of California, Irvine study by Professor Gloria Mark found that on average an employee is distracted from a task every 11 minutes – and it takes on average a further 25 minutes to get back to the same task.

So, in an average workday you are distracted no less than 48 times and waste over three hours attempting to get back to the task at hand.

In today’s open plan offices – the need for acoustic and visual solutions to reduce these distractions has never been more apparent.

A loss of visual privacy is the No 2 complaint from employees in offices with low or no partitions between desks, after noise, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology of 42,764 workers.

Alarmingly accuracy of an employee’s work decreases by up to 67 per cent when exposed to noise.

This is hardly surprising when you think about it. You are working quietly when someone clatters past, computers bleep or you are forced to listen to a colleague recounting last night’s football game while the printer is churning out the minutes of your last meeting. Any of these distractions interrupts concentration and you have to work even harder to get back to the task at hand rather than being in a flow state.

And it is allowed to happen all day, every day, in many offices.

Research has identified with certainty that decreased productivity, increased illness, stress, lower job satisfaction, lower morale and fatigue are caused through working at various levels of noise distraction. And each distraction being a profit-lowering trigger to such a staggering degree, means that employers simply cannot ignore it any longer.

Technology and office layout planning can tackle this problem head on and give employees the workspace they need to function at their highest level at a time when companies are more than ever dependent on working to their greatest efficiency in a competitive environment.

Whilst total elimination of noise is impossible, especially with the trend to open-office floorplans, absorption through acoustic ceiling, floor and wall panels and careful planning to provide acoustic partitions and enclosed quiet areas for face-to-face private meetings or phone calls are all part of the solution.

Silence is not always golden but minimising noise distraction should be part of modern and prudent office planning through recognising the huge benefits that accrue way beyond the initial cost.

An increase in employee productivity is truly the largest opportunity for any business and reducing noise distractions is a great place to start.

Offices are not really known for their tranquillity. Normally we associate the modern workplace with high activity, noise and lots of hustle and bustle.

But while that works for some – many employees need a space to retreat from the rigorous daily demands – to a space where they can calm the mind and reflect on a task at hand or gain inspiration.

Indeed, it’s important to remember that some employees are more introverted than others and value the opportunity to step away from the intensity of a busy workspace to spend time alone.

Quiet spaces are also an opportunity to recharge for all employees. Slowing the mind is both good for stress reduction and also productivity.

Silicon Valley is home to “Coding Caves” where designated rooms are conversation free and developers can bring absolute focus to their projects.

Quiet spaces may be a room that is set aside as a mobile phone and conversation free zone or it may be an open plan space with quiet lounges that have acoustic qualities that reduce verbal noise. Whilst there is no right or wrong format – reduction in noise and visual distractions is key.

So, whether it’s a small or large space – with no noise or reduced noise – why not set aside an area in your workplace that employees can retreat to and focus, recharge and relax – and for all other areas focus on limiting noise distractions at any cost – the payback is significant in so many ways.

Chill Out. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states – “stress is the epidemic of the 21st century”

Work related stress costs Australian organisations over $12 billion annually.

Employees suffering from workplace stress and anxiety take on average three more sick days per annum than non-stressed employees.

Stress is a part of most people’s lives – especially in the workplace. Yet how we learn to deal with stress in the workplace can be enormously beneficial to so many other parts of our lives.

It is estimated that over 90 per cent of an organisations costs are related to human capital. Understanding how our built environments can help reduce stress levels is a huge benefit for employees and organisations alike.

Humans for instance tend to be more relaxed in certain natural environments such as forests, beaches and mountains.

The term biophilia is the study of how humans seek a connection with the natural world.

And it is increasingly accepted that biophilia when introduced into the built environment brings the following benefits.

  • Reduced stress
  • Reduced illness and absenteeism
  • Higher productivity
  • Greater employee morale and happiness
  • Higher staff retention

Whilst natural biophilia – plants, sunlight and so on are a great way to bring the outdoors indoors for the benefit of our health – some interiors are simply not able to accommodate such preferences.

Fortunately, ever improving technology has delivered yet another interior benefit – virtual biophilia.

Through the use of hi-definition TV screens and even fabric screens – biophilia can be introduced virtually – and in many cases, is almost impossible to differentiate from the real outdoors.

Often this involves virtual ceiling panels that imitate overhead sky and clouds as well as windows that incorporate imagery such as beach or country scenes.

These biophilic inclusions can actually trigger real genetic memories of nature, bringing about positive effects and a sense of overall wellbeing.

Bringing the outdoors into our working environments is the complete opposite to the plant and sunlight free offices many will remember from the 80’s and 90’s. Yet our increased scientific understanding of the incredible benefits biophilia can bring to our working interiors is making us happier, healthier and certainly less stressed.

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