Nov 11, 2020

A Sensory Approach: Something Better in the Workplace

A sensory approach; something better in the workplace.

The anxiety caused by COVID-19 will inevitably end, but the pandemic’s impact on the workforce will linger. It caused an unprecedented experiment in mass remote work that began overnight. Employers scrambled to cobble together and implement the technology and tools needed to maintain productivity and communications, but those measures failed to address how their employees were feeling and how they might maintain connection with their co-workers and the organization’s purpose.

After 6 months of WFH, rich data suggests that while all workers appreciate the benefits of working from home some days (no commute, reduced distractions, time with family, support to children at home learning, etc.), over 50% of American workers polled want to return to the workplace four days a week. And a majority of the remaining workers think 2-3 days a week would be possible if their physical, psychological and emotional needs can be addressed.

Our collective hiatus from the office, no matter how wonderful or stressful it has been for employees, has given us all a huge opportunity to reassess why we come to the workplace in the first place, to redefine what purpose it will serve and to reimagine how it will function. With the task of easing the stress of return to the workplace front and center, let’s take a look at some of the ways companies can safely engage and connect their employees once the doors reopen.

Better experiences start with our senses.

In an earlier blog post, we borrowed from Abraham Maslow’s research to create a hierarchical guide intended to help organizations reopen their doors and address the concerns, needs, and hopes for their employees in a COVID-19 work environment. Health, wellness, safety and security must be addressed before social belonging and connection can occur. Supporting health, wellness, and safety begins with our senses –– the foundation for any human experience.

Human beings are more likely to feel physically and psychologically safe when we’re comfortable and all our senses are considered and stimulated. Sensory design supports our needs to receive information, explore the world, and experience joy, wonder, and social connections, regardless of our sensory abilities (1). Along with intentionally planned spaces for focus, rest, learning and collaboration, and intentional social rituals and behavior protocols to support connection, incorporating intentional sensory design can help create more engaging and welcoming workplaces.

Workplace 2030 Health Screening Lounge

Partnering with the Workplace 2030 Interactive Learning Center offered us the opportunity to implement many of these concepts. Together, with experts across scientific and workplace services and technology disciplines, we answer many questions employers are asking as they navigate the future of the office with the threat of COVID-19 and beyond. A Workplace2030 visit demonstrates the experience an employee might have when new technologies, new concerns for health, wellbeing, safety, engagement and new behaviors are cohesively considered in the design process.

Scents That Work

Designing for subtle sensory cues might feel understated, but it’s critical. An important takeaway from WP2030 comes from the thoughtfully designed sensory program incorporating work from local community artists, music playlists curated to evoke desired moods, along with scents to support activities of energy and focus. Our recent blog Art at Work describes both tangible and intangible benefits from corporate art programs.

Our sense of smell is often overlooked in the workplace despite its power to engage, stimulate and create memories. According to award-winning scent artist, Danielle Sergent, “Our sense of smell is connected to the limbic system, the part of our brain responsible for memory, for passion, and for storytelling. Because our olfactory bulb is nestled there, that's where scent's power for storytelling comes. It can transport you across space and time.” And thoughtfully crafted scents have proven to enhance comfort, wellbeing and positive affiliation with place.

The Scents That Work program resulted from our research into how active olfactory use supports wellbeing and memory. Scents that Work is a collection of West Coast inspired environmental, functional scents designed to enhance the workplace experience, and two can be experienced in the Workplace 2030 space.

ENERGY is influenced by Southern California, with a bright, crisp, effervescent and modern character. Grapefruit is often used to encourage action or create excitement. “Energy” pairs it with mint and ginger for a refreshing twist, along with subdued citrus florals and a base of modern patchouli. The fragrance is designed to stimulate body and mind. It’s perfect for social and collaborative areas.

FOCUS is a Bay Area referenced scent, with its sharp, rustic, green and warm character. Basil is typically associated with food, is also a brain/memory stimulant and can decrease mental fatigue. Paired with the unique citrus of yuzu, a spicy tarragon, a dusty floral heart and woody base in “Focus”, the resulting scent is designed to encourage deeper thought and clarity of vision. Huddle rooms, time out spaces, and focus rooms are where this scent might be found in the workplace.

Scents That Work

As more offices reopen, employers won’t be the only ones feeling a sense of anxiety and apprehension. Mixed with a desire to connect with their peers and engage in collaborative work together again, employees also feel a great deal of concern. Incorporating design for all the senses, including smell, can help companies create more engaging, stimulating future work environments.

Interested in the use of sensory design as you develop your evolving workplace? Call us, we’d love to help.