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Workplace design matters

Updated: Jan 21

If we look at Maslow's ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ there are key elements individual’s must have to survive and thrive.

At the bottom level of the hierarchy pyramid it can be seen that the first priority of things we all require are: food, water, warmth and rest.

The second from bottom level above that: security and safety.

If the base level is not met, we don't progress upwards.

In a nutshell - if your staff can't access what they need at the most basic level, they won't be able to perform at their best.

So why is the design of a workplace important?

To look at just a few simple reasons -

1) PHYSICAL BOUNDARIES Do your staff feel physically safe in their workplace? Are desks spaced out so staff don’t have to squeeze past or unnecessarily touch each other? If a staff member is displaying aggressive behaviour, do those around them have adequate space to move or find their own area to feel safe? Note: if you have people in your team who have been through domestic or sexual violence, simple (but unnecessary) acts of touching, such as hands on hips to move around desks, or exposure to aggressive behaviour can be extremely triggering for them. These triggers can setback the recovery process and potentially increase flashbacks of their own abuse.

2) EMOTIONAL BOUNDARIES Sociologist Talcott Parsons ‘warm bath theory’ suggests that our homes are meant to represent the calming de-stressing feeling of a warm bath. That when we walk through the door, we should feel less stressed, emotionally nourished and refreshed by our family/home dynamic. If you apply this type of thinking to a workspace you can consider what emotions you want your staff to associate with being at work. I imagine you want to have people able to reach their desk in a positive, active work mindset. If staff are attending offices and feeling that their desk space is crowded, unsafe or surrounded by people who breach emotional/verbal boundaries then staff can feel unable to concentrate and experience increased stress.

It is also valuable to consider here, if home is meant to be safe – what happens if you’re now working from home and a staff member lives in an abusive household? How can you manage this and support them?

3) TEAM PERFORMANCE If workspaces feel unsafe and/or are crowded, messy and chaotic – how can staff think clearly and effectively? If the environment feels unstable, staff are therefore more likely to not feel secure.

It is important to ensure that the practical layout and design of an office space minimises visual stressors in the form of clutter or visible piles of work to allow staff to focus on the task in hand and perform at their best level.

A simple measure could be assessing how filing systems, resources and documents are stored to not just clear workspaces but give mental clarity too. 4) CULTURE & RELATIONSHIPS

Is there enough space and privacy between desks?

If there are team members who are creating a negative energy and culture in the team – how can others disconnect from this? If you have staff who externalise stress and anger, this will directly impact those around them.

It doesn't end there:

Statistics from mixed studies show:

✦ 97% regard their workplace as a symbol of whether or not they are valued by their employer

✦ Adding plants to the office caused a 37% fall in reported tension and anxiety; a 58% drop in depression or dejection; a 44% decrease in anger and hostility; and a 38% reduction in fatigue

✦ Employers who can focus are 31% more satisfied, 14% higher performing, and see their companies as more innovative.

Looking around your own workspace take a moment to consider - is this office fit for purpose, and does it meet the needs of our staff, help them progress and deliver great outcomes?

If the answer is no, it may be time for a change!

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