Johnson, Zimmermann, and Bird investigated links between workplace design and employee performance via data collected at Microsoft using surveys and interviews. They identified “factors that were considered as important for work environments: personalization, social norms and signals, room composition and atmosphere, work-related environment affordances, work area and furniture, and productivity strategies.
Schetter’s Master’s Thesis reports on the case study of a relocation to an activity-based workplace. Schetter reports that she “investigated the perception of employees at one small tech company in the Midwest area of the United States. . . . The office environment experiences were compared with a follow-up assessment of their current remote working conditions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. . . . seven characteristics [were considered]: the amount of space, proximity to colleagues, Indoor Environmental/Air Quality, choices of spaces, quality of the workspace, light, and furniture.
Wilmot and Ones link particular personality factors to success in certain sorts of jobs and their findings are useful to designers aligning design with personality, which is regularly discussed in Research Design Connections. The investigators found that when they studied ties between personality “and occupational performance (i.e., supervisory ratings of overall job performance or objective performance outcomes). . . . for 9 major occupational groups (clerical, customer service, healthcare, law enforcement, management, military, professional, sales, and skilled/semiskilled). . .
Content to improve lives and performance
Yang and colleagues investigated the remote work experiences of Microsoft employees. They report that “The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused a rapid shift to full-time remote work for many information workers. Viewing this shift as a natural experiment in which some workers were already working remotely before the pandemic enables us to separate the effects of firm-wide remote work from other pandemic-related confounding factors.
Joseph Allen, the director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings program clearly lays out in a recent article in The Atlantic (free at the web address below) why effective workplace ventilation is so important. His piece includes information that’s crucial for every workplace designer and manager to know and to apply. For example: “My team at Harvard recently published research on the health of several hundred office workers around the world for more than a year. We found that people performed better on cognition tests when the ventilation rate in their working environment was higher.
Research on topics related to workplace ventilation continues. A Laurent-lead team reports that their goal was “to understand whether cognitive function was associated with real-time indoor concentrations of particulate matter (PM2.5) and carbon dioxide (CO2). We conducted a prospective observational longitudinal study among 302 office workers in urban commercial buildings located in six countries (China, India, Mexico, Thailand, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom). For 12 months, [we] assessed cognitive function. . . .
Ratcliffe’s work confirms the value of nature soundtracks in particular contexts. She determined via a literature review that “nature is broadly characterized by the sounds of birdsong, wind, and water, and these sounds can enhance positive perceptions of natural environments presented through visual means. Second, isolated from other sensory modalities these sounds are often, although not always, positively affectively appraised and perceived as restorative.
Recently, lots of attention has focused on meetings, and we’ve all learned to Zoom. Future in-meeting experiences will continue to significantly affect both individual and organizational wellbeing and performance. Neuroscience research can be used to encourage at-meeting situations with advantageous outcomes.
Workplace design can make worker burnout less likely and employee engagement more probable—neuroscience research details not only why but also how.