Designing your office around the five senses

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Why human interaction matters more than ever in an age of digitisation

Have you ever wondered which features in your office directly stimulate the five senses? The view of the sky, the tinkling of a fountain, maybe the grain in wooden desks, the crunchy salads from the in-house café and the smell of coffee roasting? If this doesn’t sound familiar it is because we are often left with uninspiring memories of our office: a view of a partition wall, the buzz of photocopiers or the claustrophobia of stuffy elevators.

Now that you are thinking about it, you might feel it's time to move away from these dehumanised, single tone workplaces to more stimulating ones.

Each of the five main senses has a major part to play in creating stimulating offices and physical environments as a whole. To maximise the human potential of your staff, the space around them must be designed with a human touch in mind. The key to improved creativity and communication between your staff comes from decoding what inspires them and providing what they need in their place of work.

We discuss this in our latest research — Workplace - powered by Human Experience — which shows a growing number of people wanting more human and nourishing environments to work in. For instance, over a third of the 7,000 employees we surveyed believe that the personalisation of the workplace is essential, and over 40% believe they would do their daily work better if they could operate from a range of workspaces, which have been customised to suit varying demands. You might have quiet balconies to collect elevated thoughts and brightly-coloured meeting areas for brainstorming.

Workplace design will, in future, encourage more face-to-face contact and well-designed spaces can make this happen. As we pass down more basic tasks to different forms of artificial intelligence and technologies such as chatbots, we will need to enrich and strengthen our human contact. A growing number of business leaders recognise this and want to reflect it in the design of the working environment. The wide staircases at the new Sky HQ in West London, for instance, are designed both for their aesthetic appeal and also to encourage people to chat to each other on the stairs or the spaces near them.

In the medium-term, we will be able to redesign small repetitive tasks – through automation, for example – to free up employees and enable them to spend more time on value-adding activities. Chairs will restack themselves in the corner after meetings in flexible space areas, giving people a chance to talk to each other for a few more minutes. Organisations that live or die by the ingenuity of their people are working on ways to nourish the human mind and spirit. That is why so many companies now offer work spaces that have been created with the stimulation of the five senses in mind, aiming to go beyond aesthetics and comfort to create a genuine and positive human experience. It is also why some employers are introducing circadian lighting schemes. And it is also why UK communications company TalkTalk has a herb garden on its roof in Salford.

Leading businesses will need to design their workplaces with the senses in mind and they will also have to listen closely to what makes their people create, innovate, and tick. Because, after all, they are the heart and soul of the organisation.

Marie Puybaraud is global head of research at the global property consultancy ‎JLL

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