Sense Makes Sense

Engagement in the office is undoubtedly the number one factor business leaders strive to obtain for their employees. According to Gallup’s 2015 workplace poll, only 32% of Americans claim they are engaged in the office, costing companies and average of $500 billion to lost productivity. To combat disengagement, leaders are looking for ways to boost employees’ attitudes, involvement and desire to be better at their job. One idea is improving their workplace environment. Studies indicate that workers who rate a higher level of satisfaction with their office surroundings are more engaged and more productive at work. 

So, what are the tactics for glamorizing the office? Is it building an inner-connecting slide, having a barista on staff, incorporating a lounge space that looks like it jumped off the page of a Restoration Hardware catalog? Well, it can’t hurt, but it goes deeper than that. There are a multitude of design strategies supported by in depth research and current workplace trends that can improve a company’s office design. But one approach I rely on is designing to appeal to the 5 senses. 

The 5 senses are an intriguing bunch, as they are the gateway to our unconscious mind. It is this less conscious part of the brain that leads us to draw perceptions and form opinions. Incorporating sensory stimuli of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell into space design can unleash the inner dimensions of the mind and provoke inspiration in ways that a bland, vanilla environment cannot achieve.

The following are simple strategies for evoking the 5 senses in workplace design:

One of the easier senses to capitalize, especially when implementing color psychology. For example, spaces that require mental clarity or creativity, subtle blue tones that are associated with tranquility can provoke this behavior. And in social areas bursting with high energy, bright bold colors can stimulate this activity. Another visual catalyst is exposure to daylight. Often times deemed the most important element in workplace design, access to natural light throughout the day can improve workers’ attitudes and lead to higher productivity. 

Appropriate noise levels are crucial for successful working environments. A study from the Journal of Consumer Research indicates that moderate levels of ambient noise can enhance a workers performance whereas loud noise can negatively affect it. Believe it or not, a company called Coffitivity recently launched an app that provides a library of café noises that when played in the background is proven to boost creativity and production when working. While speakers recreating the hum of a coffee house might not be the answer for an entire office suite, designing a space that carefully balances a range of work activities to achieve an overall decibel level of 70dB is optimum. 

This sense is often associated with the emotion of comfort and warmth when it comes to an office environment. Incorporating a mix of materials with a variety of textures and dimensions provides tactile qualities that stimulate interest and pleasure.  In terms of feeling well in mind and body, providing a range of posture in different settings can also promote this sensory quality. Height adjustable tables are amongst the most popular means of supporting wellness in the office, as well as designing collaboration spaces based on the duration of meetings - more relaxed and inviting furniture for lengthy meetings, or standing height furniture for quick, impromptu status checks.

Although it is a bit of a stretch when it comes to workplace design, taste has an impact on workers’ engagement. Incorporating spaces such as a café or pantry with access to high protein snacks and caffeinated beverages helps workers stay alert and focused. Many large organizations have included food service onsite to keep employees close to the office, meaning less time wasted on transportation to and from lunch eateries.

The most powerful of the senses, scent is directly linked to the memory center of the brain. That’s why certain smells transport you back to certain memories….. think pine needles and your favorite Christmas traditions.  According to an article published in Apartment Therapy, these specific scents are know to improve peoples moods and boost productivity – cinnamon, mint, lemon, orange and rosemary. Companies such as ScentAir exploit these aromas to promote emotional and memorable connections with their customers.

Whether it’s investing in a complete office renovation, or incorporating small touches here and there, making the work environment more pleasing to employees by stimulating a sense makes sense.


Michelle Eckhart
Director of Ideation
PMC Commercial Interiors

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