In search of the perfect workplace

published on Jun 16, 2016 by I. Nacheva

Workplace is a setting in which most of us spend significant part of our lives. Often employers are focused on the design of the offices – good location, modern buildings, smart facilities, expensive furniture and attractive pieces of art are often considered to be the perfect decision. Many business owners will warrant that if your office has these characteristics, you will surely impress and get the attention of more clients. Also many recruiters will tell you that having it all can help you attract high qualified experts in your team.

But is it really the magic recipe for office setting? Are we missing something? What other factors can influence the employee`s experience on the workplace?

Surprisingly, the answer is connected to something very basic: Nature.

Light is one of the most important factors both for health and wellbeing of the workers. Light deprivation is connected to vision problems, low vitamin D production and drop in serotonin.  When it comes to workplace settings, light is often provided  by fluorescent lights, dominated by  yellow-green part of the spectrum which causes disbalance in the vision functioning. That is why sun access is very important: human eyes work at their best when full-spectrum of light is provided. In other words the perfect working conditions include natural daylight.

Another important remark on light comes from psychology and neuroscience. It turns out that sun is an effective tool when it comes to prevention of depressive moods and even aggressive behaviour. The reason for that is a special substance, discovered in 1948 by researchers from Cleveland Clinic in a blood serum – they named it serotonin. It is related to mood conditions and the state of well-being. This substance is also popular as “the hormone of happiness”. In other words natural light exposure triggers the production of this hormone in human bodies – so if you want positive people in your office, you need to bring the sun in it.

In addition natural views tend to produce remarkable effects on brain activity. According to some studies of Ulrich for example, they can even help faster recovery from stressful events. Patients exposed to such views show lower muscle tension, lower skin conductance, and higher pulse transit along with possibly lower blood pressure. In that sense natural views can be effectively used  in reducing stress. Researchers  show that they are connected to processes like holding attention, improving mood and decreasing anxiety.

Fresh air is another component of the perfect working conditions, but its importance is often underrated. The need of proper air circulation in office buildings is a significant problem and sometimes solutions can cost a lot of money. In addition the quality of the air in the open spaces (terraces, open coffee areas, gardens) etc. in many cases is questionable, especially if the buildings are located in industrial zones or in the centre of the city. At the same time a report of the World Green Building Council (WGBC) states that workplaces with poor air quality and too-warm temperatures consistently reduce employee performance by 10 percent. Which means that fresh air is not a topic we can depreciate.

The last things we will add to the picture of the perfect office environment are … plants. At first it may sound like a strange idea to seek for connection between flowers and grass and employee experience. But studies of landscape architects show that such connections exist. For example Larsen and her colleagues find that plant density in the workplace  setting can affect not only attitudes and perceptions of the people, but also some components of employee`s productivity. Stress reduction and attentional focus in the office can be increased by the presence of natural vegetation. Actually these findings have traditions - back in 1998 Heerwagen et al. demonstrated that subjects in a windowless room had lower blood pressure readings and felt more attentive in presence of plants.

In sum, if business applies the idea that “our people are our greatest asset”, then it should supply the workplace setting with some basic natural contributors for human health and well-being. Sunlight, natural views, fresh air and plants can have amazing effects on the way people feel and perform in their working activities. If you are curious to test how these factors will influence your team – bring them on a Power Week in the nature and make sure you keep the working process and other conditions in the usual mode. After the experience you can analyse the results as well as the employee`s perceptions and impressions. Last but not least, check how you feel by the use of nature as office.