Making the right decisions on office buildings and how to facilitate home offices. The 'Triple S - CARE' method explained.
Written by Govert Flint - owner of Enrichers, January 5, 2021
In 2020, most office design projects got on hold due to uncertainties related to COVID-19. COVID-19 displayed working from home is possible resulting for most companies to decide to work half of the time from home permanently. This results into a smaller office building, raising questions about what the office building should facilitate. Working from home works rather good, but most of us also experienced it is difficult to feel connected and it might be boring to work all day from home for months. How do you make sure you get a maximum performance out of the home office? And what to do with the office building itself?
Herewith, I will explain how you can design offices in 2021 for maximum employee satisfaction with 4 chapters:
1. Introduction Triple S-CARE method
2. Home offices
3. Co-working spaces
4. Office buildings
What is the 'Triple S-CARE' method?
There are three major themes of attention when it comes to nowadays work spaces. If you want to make the right decisions when it comes to the performance and engagement of employees, these three themes should be taken into account when making decisions about the office.
First of all, a company should decide if it wants employees to be satisfied. If the answer is 'yes', it is worth to continue reading this article. In case of doubt: happy employees perform 37% better and sell 31% more compared to companies with unhappy employees (2015). This sounds unreal but it makes sense. One aspect is that happy employees are less likely to show job withdrawal like absenteeism, turnover, job burnout, and retaliatory behaviors, making them perform and sell more. And in case an employer doesn't pursue happiness, society should want people to be happy, since happiness also positively affects general health (2015).
Sitting is a huge cause of unnatural death in modern society. Although science thought many modern diseases were mainly related to smoking, alcohol and bad consumption, scientists found new evidence 'sitting' itself also has a major contribution to it. People who move less than 30 minutes a day are 49% likely to die from an unnatural death (2012), have 112% more chance to get Diabetes 2, 147% more likely to get a cardiovascular disease and 90% more likely to die from that (2012).
You have a sedentary lifestyle when you move less than 30 minutes a day, less than 5 times a week. When you have an office job, you are likely to sit for 11,3 hours a day (2013). This includes the time you sit before and after working hours. The time you sit when you commute, have breakfast and dinner and when you're at home watching TV. When you go to the office, you can get your exercise from going to work by bike. But when you work from home, you are even less likely to get your 30 minutes of movement.
Apart from long term diseases, sitting also has a short-term impact. When people sit for a long time, their cartilage gets less nutrition: increasing the probability to get arthrosis. Using a desk chair with back support also makes your lower back carry less of your weight, decreasing strength of your core. Emotionally, sitting for a long time enhances negative feelings whereas muscle activity activates endorphin production and full body activity is perceived by the brain as being emotionally happy (2013).
There are many calculations done to grasp the costs of work related stress. In 2018, Dutch research entity TNO calculated stress related absenteeism costs Dutch firms 2.8 billion Euros (TNO, 2018). In the European Union, the costs of work-related depression alone was more than 617 billion Euros (EU, 2014). These costs are divided by absenteeism (272 billion EUR), loss of productivity (242 billion EUR), health care (63 billion EUR) and welfare (39 billion EUR). Work related stress is caused when people experience high demand to deliver and feel they have little control on meeting that demand. Providing the ability to execute tasks and the ability to be realistic about deliverables is the most important leadership skill to fight stress. But there are also other stressors.
People using mainly digital devices to communicate at work are twice as likely to get sick from stress. It is important when you shift to working from home partly, people are minimizing the use of video calls, emails and phones.
Movement increases resilience to stress. When people have an active lifestyle, they train their bodies to deal with stress. People with an active lifestyle might experience the same amount of stress, but are quicker with getting back to a non-stressful state of mind.
Awareness on stress increases your resilience to cope better with it. When people know what they feel when they are stressed and what causes stress to them, they recover quicker when they experience stress. Providing insight to stress and customizing the workflow is a big promise for stress reduction at work (appliedmotions.com).
In 2018 neuroscientists Reeve and Lee published an article about basic psychological needs. They describe autonomy, relatedness and competence to be the three elements which need to be present in once life to have positive well-being and satisfaction (2018). What does an office look like when you design it based on these three pillars?
People feel competent when there is a need of their expertise. People like to challenge themselves, learn new skills and advise others on themes they master. During lock down, people experienced working from home makes it more difficult to feel inspired by spontaneous interactions with fellow colleagues, peers or suppliers. Co-working spaces, digital communication and offices can be designed to facilitate 'competence'.
Autonomy at work is having the ability to make your own decisions. Depending on what type of company you work for, autonomy can be experienced in different ways. People working for +100 employee companies and who aren't part of management team might experience less autonomy at work compared to people working for startups or small firms. For larger employee companies you can supply autonomy by letting employees decide themselves from where they work.
The last element a person needs to feel satisfied is relatedness. A person should feel part of a larger community. Work has the possibility to supply this feeling. The home office is good for people who live with their family. Working from home increases private relations. But the home office does not provide relatedness with colleagues. Physical ability to meet peers at work is essential, especially for singles and starters who didn't have time to build up a relation with the company yet. To the majority of employees, a shared physical workspace will increase satisfaction.
In 1949 Hebb discovered with medicine experiments on rodents the physical enclose they are in during the tests cause bias to the testing results. During the experiment one group of mice was placed inside a regular hamster cage with several floors, sawdust, a treadmill and some ropes and tubes (enriched cage) whereas regularly research mice were placed in empty drawer-like cages (deprived cage).
The mice in the enriched cage became 1,5 times older, had a higher resilience, less mice got sick and when mice got sick in the enriched cage, they recovered quicker compared to mice of the same virus / medicine group who lived in the deprived cage. The mice got healthier from the enriched cage because they stimulated their brains in various ways, making them have more neuro pathways and have more active brain areas.
The five information paths the human body developed to perceive an environment are:
1. Visual - all information which helps you to orient yourself and make a mind-map and non-inclusive motions. Non-inclusive motions are moving elements which do not require your activation, which move repetitive, are ever-changing and predictable. Examples are clouds, leaves of a tree moving in the wind, people on the street, camp fire etc.
2. Motor - all information you receive by your muscles. Movements but also balancing, gravity and carrying weight on your body.
3. Somatosensory - everything you feel with your skin like temperature, humidity, light, pressure, textures and also what you detect chemically like scents and flavors.
4. Cognition - all information that is part or contributing to learning curvatures and decision making. Like reading body language, feeling challenged, developing skills and playing a music instrument.
5. Circadian Rhythms - synchronizing your activities with your personal bio rhythms. There are three biorhythm discovered up to today: light, nutrition and social interaction. All three are having a biological clock.
Environmental Enrichment is also known to humans. Being locked up in prison can lower your IQ after 3 month and Environmental Enrichment (EE) is already applied for Alzheimer patients and people suffering from Huntington disease. During long and strict lock downs, many of us experienced what it does to our mood when we have little stimuli and low variety of environments. This is an extreme experience of the influence a deprived environment has to us. Enrichers did an experiment for Netherlands Railways (NS) in 2017 by comparing what influence active sitting has to travelers their mood. We saw people who sit actively on moving surfaces got a significant increase to positive emotions.
How to design the home office?
Tags: autonomy, active sitting, personal budgets
Supply active furniture & facilitate work stations with high variety of postures (standing desk, laying desk, leaning desk)
Facilitate tools and products: every task you can do walking, do it walking (phone calls, video calls of treadmill)
Vouchers for (lunch) breaks outside the house, preferably in the park
People with a regular office job in Australia sat around 11,3 hours a day including time spend off from work (2013). When you work from home, you miss the movements you would normally make to commute, to go around the office for coffees, colleagues and meetings and to visit clients or suppliers elsewhere. Just giving employees a regular desk chair at home is not enough to keep one's body in a healthy condition at the home office. The aim for working from home should be to have worked in at least three different postures and to feel slightly physically exhausted at the end of the day, making you sleep well. Although it is possible to measure physical activity during the day with a wearable, there is no index yet displaying how much activity desk chairs are causing when people work from it at home.
Because there is a lack of physical activity at the home office, anything you can do to keep people active should be supplied. As an employer, you can provide a product catalogue with active furniture pieces which supply movement for active sitting. For light activity, inflated cushions can reduce back pains. Active furniture ensures the person balances while sitting and are designed to give enough support to focus on the computer.
But even active furniture is not enough when people are working from home all day. A body should not remain in the same posture for longer than 3 hours. The home office should be designed to facilitate at least 3 different postures and intensities of movements:
Video calls calls can be done from a treadmill desk or you can put the laptop on a rotating device making you walk in circles.
Phone calls with a walk outside in the park preferably (also stress reducing)
Routine tasks like processing emails from active furniture with large movements (furniture with a bowl-type bottom like the Buoy chair) or from an unconventional posture: laying down, a leaning desk
New challenging tasks can be done from active furniture with more stability like the Macaron active cushion or Moonraker seat or standing desk
Apart from the physical home desk, an employer can also stimulate employees to go for a walk by providing vouchers to do sports or to have lunch outside the house, for example at a lunchroom in the park at walking distance from someones home.
Awareness of stress with sensors and smart watches
Supply personal budgets for renting or using quiet spaces in direct surroundings of the house
Minimize video calls and digital communication
At the home office there are different stressors compared to work. You're private life is mingled at home, having to deal with kids, pets but also maintenance to the house and neighbors can be a serious cause of stress. Especially low-wage employees and starters might face the downside of working from home, considering they have lower income, less ability to choose a house with a garden and little noise from the street. They are more likely to live in a space that is not big enough for a proper home office. Employees without enough income to rent or buy a two-room apartment can be supplemented with vouchers. As an employer you could facilitate by providing a monthly budget for employees for being able to use a co-working space, consume drinks at a cafe, library or rent a room for a couple of hours close-by in case one is distracted at home.
What should also be considered is the type of tasks you do from home. At the home office, it is more likely you need to communicate more often with video calls, phone or email compared to working from the office. When your work predominantly consists of the use of digital communication devices, you are twice as likely to get stressed (TNO, 2018). Working from home should aim for as little video calls and digital communication as possible. These meetings can better be saved for the days people work from the office.
Another interesting fact is that people become more resilient to stress when they are aware of their stress. Using smart watches or other stress measuring devices can provide insight to the extend work activities cause stress to you. It might be you feel stress but lack awareness to notice your mouth getting dry. When you start to measure your stress levels, it helps with noticing the bodily signals. With paying attention to your breathing, you can get back into a normal state of mind within a couple of minutes. These exercises make it possible to prevent yourself from remaining stressed for too long.
There are two autonomic nervous systems (ANS): the Sympathetic nervous system and the Parasympathetic nervous system. This autonomic nervous system is is charge of the metabolism and keeping all organs active. When you are in a normal situation, you are in a state of rest & digest. The parasympathetic nervous system is in control then. When you are in an exciting situation, you are in a state of fight or flight. The body needs to be able to run or to defend itself to keep itself alive. This is something we experience as stress. The Sympathetic nervous system prioritizes the energy different, making sure the organs needed to run or fight are active instead of the metabolism. When we are stressed for too long, it might be the case the Parasympathetic nervous system has difficulties to get back control over the body making us remain in a constant state of stress and having no ability to recover from it. When this happens, we are burned out.
The two nervous systems are noticeable by looking at heart rate variability. When you look at the time a person goes back from being in a fight or flight mode to a rest or digest mode, you can determine to what extend a person is able to deal with stress. With Institute for Applied Motions we are working on a device to provide feedback on stress by using a smart cushion. Aim is to optimize work activities along the day by providing personal feedback based on stress.
Provide maximum autonomy with leadership and management style: reduce all sensations of being controlled at the home office
The reason most employees like to work from home partly, is because at home you have more autonomy. At home you are in charge of organizing your own workflow. You can decide what to wear, what to drink, when to take your breaks, to work from the kitchen, balcony, garden, park or a cafe. You are also able to express your emotions freely. Working from home is complementary for a couple of days a week to the main office when it comes to increasing satisfaction.
No increase of competence at home office
For being satisfied, you also need to feel 'competence' at the home office. This is an element which is difficult to supplement at home. A person feels competent when someone is asked to give advice, to share knowledge or to lead. This happens more naturally in a social environment. It can be supplied at the home office by making a person perform task related to personal competences. More easily 'competence' is supplied at the office, making the office also complementary to the home office.
Home office provides by nature sensation of having more autonomy
The home office is ideal for experiencing autonomy. If you want employees to benefit from the natural presence of having more autonomy at the home office, an employer should make sure there is a management culture based on trust. If a person feels controlled at the home office, the element of autonomy is gone, making employees unsatisfied despite working partly from home.
Be flexible with working hours
Living alone: lack of relatedness
Living with partner, friends or family: increase of private relatedness
When you work from home, it is more difficult to relate to fellow colleagues, suppliers and clients. But you do have the possibility to relate to people in your private life, like your family or roommates. When it comes to working from home and relatedness: you should be aware as an employer there is a huge difference to how people experience relatedness while working from home when they live together or by themselves.
Be aware as a company that maintaining relatedness with private life by making people work from home is contributing to employee satisfaction as well. For example by being flexible with working hours: team members can take into account times colleagues want to bring their kids to school and be open to exchange some working hours in the afternoon for working after dinner time.
Stimulate employees to create a home office with natural light, greenery and movement by supplying curated home (office) products
Environmental Enrichment in a private environment is often what people already decide to surround themselves with. If people are sensitive to making their homes beautiful, they will naturally choose plants, flowers, sport devices, artworks and make for themselves a home environment which meets their biological needs. As an employer you can stimulate a person to enrich the home office by supplying products meeting one of the five informational paths. For example sport accessories, active furniture, scents, flowers, plants, acoustic elements, bio lighting and healthy meal subscriptions. Novelty and complexity are also part of enrichment. Surprising employees sometimes with a novel artifact for the home office might have an enriching effect.
To be continued... About Article #3 of the Triple S - CARE series
The next article of this Triple S - CARE series will be about how to apply this method to co-working spaces and hubs. I hope this article was inspiring. Would you like to know more or apply the Triple S - CARE method to your offices and work spaces? Contact me by email: email@example.com.
Enrich it up and have a great 2021!
Govert Flint from Enrichers