February 2, 2023
Seven Ways to Optimize Your Workspace for Mental Well-Being
Bringing employees back to the office provides a chance to redesign the workplace and improve physical and emotional wellbeing. After nearly three years of remote work, returning to a physical office space can foster a sense of belonging and equity, leading to increased productivity and morale.
However, returning to the office may also pose difficulties for some employees, such as feelings of anxiety or difficulty adjusting to new routines. At our employer briefing last week, experts in design and psychology offered actionable advice to optimize workspaces for well-being and make it easier to attract workers back into the office. Here are seven key takeaways.
- Key to a successful return to the office is how much support employees feel. It’s important to acknowledge that this shift in routines can be mentally taxing, and many workers will have to manage new care responsibilities, commutes or social interactions with colleagues that can be stressful. Communicate with intention, lead with empathy, and remember that employees may need some extra time and support to adjust to new routines.
While a mass return to the office after a pandemic is unprecedented, researchers have studied people returning to work from long-term sick leave. Psychological safety matters, and managers have the most influence on an employee’s sense of psychological safety in the workplace. Our Conversation Guide will help your leaders foster supportive environments and normalize discussion of mental health.
- Instead of trying to design a workspace for the average employee, offer flexibility, choice and control for employees to mold their workspace to their individual needs and work styles. Research shows that we don’t always know what we want, but when we’re allowed to choose, we naturally opt for what makes us most comfortable. And that keeps the workplace from being a source of stress and a drain on productivity.
Remember that intentional design improvements to reduce the risk of ergonomic injuries can help improve physical well being too, especially for employees who’ve spent the past three years working from their couch or coffee table. When you feel physically better at work, your mental wellbeing will also improve.
- Help workers align their workspace with the way they navigate the world around them. About 1 in 6 Americans are neurodivergent, and half of those people aren’t aware of it. That’s why it’s helpful to do more than provide accommodations for those who request them, and, instead, make workspace creation a collaborative process. This can extend all the way down to control over lights, sound and arrangement of the furniture.
- Create “neighborhood” layouts instead of rows and rows of open-plan desks. The truth behind open-plan layouts is nuanced. Too much interaction can actually reduce collaboration, and massive environments without boundaries can cause introverts to shut down. But workspaces that are too closed-off and too quiet can be distressing, as well. Small clusters of desks strike a better balance and let people have more control over their interactions.
- Co-create workspaces with employees representing the full diversity of your workforce. Giving workers a real say in the process to navigate the challenges they’re facing creates an environment where everyone feels supported and included. Equity in the process of designing an effective workspace will contribute to equity in the result. Consider asking employee resource groups or other affinity networks to advise your team as you co-create workplaces together.
- Even if you can’t knock down walls or scrap cubicles, co-design workspace policies. These could cover noise, privacy and other factors in the physical environment, as well as hybrid work arrangements and protocols for video or hybrid meetings. For example, make sure remote participants are given the same notice about meetings and acknowledge remote participants on the call. Consider a policy where meetings have two facilitators–one who manages the in-person environment and another who’s managing the virtual room and giving voice to employee comments in the Chat. Again, intentional communication and meaningful collaboration will have its own benefits on the well-being of your team.
- Don’t underestimate the impact of plants, windows and access to outdoor space. Research has shown that incorporating plants in your workspace can improve workplace satisfaction, concentration, air quality, employee engagement and connectedness—and deliver a 15% boost to productivity. And, office workers with more light exposure at work have longer sleep duration, better sleep quality, more physical activity and better quality of life compared to office workers with less light exposure in the workplace.
Get more advice, straight from our expert speakers, by watching the full video.
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