Partial optimisation of the workplace harms wellbeing and productivity

Blog: Arja-Liisa Kaasinen, Workplace Planning Director, Martela

An information worker is under an ever-increasing load. There is a lot of information to digest, and collective working methods that promise increased efficiency cause stress if common operating models are not agreed upon.

The development of a workplace that promotes wellbeing and productivity is annoyingly often blocked by partial optimisation. The workplace is, however, a dynamic entity with physical, social and digital dimensions.

Together, these dimensions boost cognitive ergonomics, i.e. the human ability to process information, which is essential in information work. Therefore, focusing on only one of these dimensions is not enough. Only by considering the limitations of the human mind can we create a functioning environment for succeeding and coping at work.

The human mind enjoys a logically organised space

The experience of the physical environment can be influenced by means of spatial planning and interior design. Space solutions have a clear and direct link to wellbeing and the fluency of work. We can, for example, enhance lighting and acoustic conditions, design fluent gangways and, in addition to supporting social activities, also support working in peace and the opportunity to concentrate.

When the necessary items, equipment and people can be easily found and are in logical locations, no time is wasted on wondering and searching. User-centric workplace planning supports the activities of both the employees and visitors: premises that are easy to structure in one’s mind, that people find it natural to move around and be in, and where performing one’s duties feels easier.

Suitable choices of furniture in support of physical ergonomics enable versatile postures and help you cope with your work. Harmonious colours, delightful greenery and an inspiring interior all support mental wellbeing.

Common rules of the game direct the social environment

Even if everything in the space, furniture and materials has been thoroughly thought through, it is not enough alone to create cognitive wellbeing. The proper functioning of an activity-based environment also calls for common and vocalised guidelines.  

In addition to the physical reality, our work is influenced by the culture and social environment of the working community. From the viewpoint of cognitive ergonomics, clear rules of the game are key. Understanding the common goals and fluency of communication are important fundamentals.   It is important to jointly agree, for example, where in the office your colleague can be interrupted or where you are allowed to chat and laugh, no matter how loud. Similarly, silence also deserves a territory of its own.  

With clear rules of the game, no energy is wasted on pondering how you should act in each situation, or whether someone else is acting exactly as one shouldn’t.

Does digital technology help you in your work, or only bring you more stress?

It is important to ponder together in a working community whether the systems and equipment of your digital environment are up to date. Does the technology work in such a way that it genuinely supports your work and makes it easier?

Cognitive performance, for example, is impeded by technological stress through systems that are not working properly, connections that slow down, and lack of expertise or excess use of social media. People are very different in terms of what they can tolerate: some people are not at all bothered by blinking lights and beeping sounds around them, while others are on the verge of fury in an instant.

It is a good idea to consciously pace and organise your working day. One way to do that is to schedule timeslots for reading and replying to your e-mails, and to disconnect any notification and alarm signals at other times. You can support your memory by using aids, such as digital notes, lists and timeslots reserved for performing some routine tasks. Anything that reduces the scattered nature of your working day and interruptions in it, will support your memory and keep your brain alert.

Besides, when many offices have been designed so that wireless networks function and you can easily connect work equipment to displays or meeting microphones, for example, you are saved from many a headache.

Developing the working environment means looking for harmony

For the wellbeing of your mind and overall cognitive abilities, it is important that you can work in a functioning community and with devices which work properly and that you can enjoy a cosy interior which supports your activities.  

Being successful in the design of your working environment calls for developing the physical, social and digital environment in harmony. To conclude, do not optimise just one of them, but rather all three.