Our state of mind is so important to our success at work. A positive, engaged brain has been heralded as the greatest source of competitive advantage in our modern economy. And it’s not hard to see why. Numerous studies have now shown that a positive mindset makes us more motivated, productive, creative, accurate and persuasive. It even makes us more resilient by strengthening our immune system, leading to less sick days and better overall health.
Today, I’ll be looking at one easy place to start boosting your positivity – designing a happy working environment.
If you’re at home or in the office now working, have a look around you. How does your workspace make you feel? Does it make you feel in control, inspired, energised, positive and awake? Or does it make you feel the exact opposite? Humans shape buildings but we often forget that buildings then shape us and affect the way we feel. This is only just being explored in a fascinating new field of study called neuroarchitecture. Instead of designing aesthetically pleasing environments, neuroarchitects are designing enriching environments full of neurological stimulus to positively impact the way feel.
Today I’ll be sharing 10 quick and easy ways to perk up your workspace and I’d love to hear from you all on how you’ve brought these ideas to life as well as whether you’ve noticed a change in how you feel. There’s space at the end of this article to comment so please do share your experiences!
1. Instill order
As human beings, we need continuity and order. Chaos makes us feel out of control and increases our stress response. Little things like over-flowing files, paper piling up, an inbox full of unread emails etc. all signify that we are losing control of our lives. Dedicate an hour or two every week to creating order in the real and virtual office and you’ll notice an immediate difference.
2. Create space
Crowded rooms are more likely to have an adverse effect on mood. Most of us don’t have the luxury to choose a large workspace but we can all change the perception of space without having to spend lots of money. For example, by using pale colours on the walls, removing anything blocking light from windows, hanging large mirrors to reflect light, decreasing the room temperature by a couple of degrees and taking out unnecessary furniture.
3. Design a safe space
Human traits are generally seen as being adaptations to the environment during the Pleistocene era when we were hunter-gatherers. This means that we are still programmed to be suspicious of things in our environment that were historical sources of potential danger. My top three to avoid are; hidden corners, areas of darkness and sharp objects (including sharp edges on tables).
4. Check the temperature
Thermal comfort is essential to productivity and focus. If the room is too hot or too cold both productivity and focus decrease. While the ideal temperature varies according to the individual, what you’re wearing and the work you’re doing, 18°C is generally accepted as a good level for office work. Interestingly, some studies now show that when we feel cold, we also feel isolated because our minds unconsciously link warmth with affection. Isolation is the opposite of what we need to be feeling when we start out on our own in business so make sure you take a couple of moments to focus on the temperature around you.
5. Have hydration to hand
Our brain is 75% water. Without water, quite simply, we die. Even the slightest bit of dehydration shuts our bodies down. Keep a jug of filtered water on your desk to sip away during the day.
6. Let natural light spill in
Natural light keeps the brain alert and helps suppress stress. This allows you to focus, feel calm, and be more productive. Can you move your desk to a window and increase light coming through? If you don’t have any windows, try taking regular breaks to get outside, even if it’s just a 5-minute walk around the block. There are some full-spectrum electric-light sources available now but these still do not vary over the day and therefore aren’t in sync with your sleep-wake cycle and upset your biological rhythms.
7. Bring in the fresh air
So many buildings these days are closed systems due to the heavy use of air-conditioning and energy efficient heating systems. This has a big negative affect on air quality and ventilation. Without sufficient ventilation, you can feel drowsy by effectively trapping carbon dioxide that builds up as a by-product of your own breathing. Research also shows that people feel ill from low levels of common environmental chemical odours such as paint, perfume and new carpet. If you’re reluctant to open the window, then bring nature in and let plants help filter the air (see tip 10 below)
8. Use a scent that awakens you
Scent is so powerful and is often overlooked in design. Odour molecules stimulate the release of chemicals in your brain that directly impact mood. When I’m working at home, I like to use an invigorating or memory stimulating scent like lemongrass and rosemary. I’ll be writing another article about the power of scent soon on Women Unlimited so you’ll be able to explore more ways to use scent for wellbeing.
9. Soothe your ears
We’re often unaware of all the noise pollution around us. Close your eyes for a minute and you suddenly become aware of the whir of your computer, sirens in the distance, traffic horns, air conditioning units, crashes from a nearby building site or road works . . . Noise like this is a sensory distraction and loud noise is perceived as a danger, triggering a stress response with the release of cortisol in our bodies. If you need to really concentrate, find a peaceful workspace and / or look at counteracting negative noise with peaceful background music with a slow beat, ideally instrumental or sounds of nature.
10. Bring the outside in
The environment has a big effect on our psychological and physiological wellbeing. We now spend 80% of our lives indoors and many of us are living in man-made crowded city environments. This increases our stress levels because we’re designed to live in the opposite way as hunter-gatherers. Start with a couple indoor plants, fresh flowers on your desk, pots of herbs on the windowsill and moving your desk to a window with a view. I guarantee you’ll feel an immediate benefit to your wellbeing.
I hope that gives you a few ideas to get started and look forward to hearing in the comments, about how you’ve redesigned your workspaces to become happier places!