The office for all of the 5 senses
All of our senses can be “hacked” to reduce stress, boost productivity and create a sense of well-being in the workplace, says Charles Spence, professor and researcher in psychology at Oxford University. Here are his best hacks.
“Many of us in northern Europe suffer from ‘light starvation’, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The easiest way to avoid this and hack your brain through your vision is to make sure you get an office space close to a window letting in natural light. A view of lush greenery or blue sea is even better for your state of mind. And don’t underestimate the effect of choosing the right wallpaper on your computer desktop. It’s no coincidence that Windows’ most classic wallpapers feature amazing natural landscapes.”
“We all know that music helps to motivate people, especially if their jobs are boring and repetitive. So it is important to let people choose what to listen to, wherever possible. Unpleasant noise is extremely detrimental to productivity, and there are clear links between stress, mental illness and noise. I’ve noticed that more and more open-plan offices are introducing digital sounds, or even water features, to mask and drown out background noise.”
“Massage is an excellent way to enhance focus. One study showed that the number of careless mistakes people made at work dropped drastically after the company introduced a brief lunchtime massage. You might also consider the ambient temperature in the office as a form of touch, and there are significant differences between women and men in this area. An excessively warm office can make people sleepy, but women rarely complain that the office is too warm—it’s usually the opposite. The air-conditioning standard that was established decades ago and still reigns in offices today is, unsurprisingly, adjusted to men’s needs. Studies show large differences in thermal comfort: an average of 3.1°C between
men’s and women’s desired office temperature.”
“There is also research supporting the idea that the right scents can be used in the office to reduce stress. We humans tend to associate emotions with places. So my favorite hack is to change the scent of a room after a stressful meeting using a thumb drive that you can insert in a computer or mobile charger. But aroma hacks can also be used in other ways:
I love the example of a Japanese company that reduced traffic to the tiny kitchens
by releasing cooking odors through the ventilation on different floors at different times. That led to the employees getting hungry at different times, making the lunch rush more manageable.”
“For many of us, coffee is an invaluable energy boost. But there are other taste sensations employers can consider. It is no coincidence that some of Silicon Valley’s most successful tech companies, including Google, Apple, Pixar and Facebook, offer their employees heavily discounted, and sometimes free, food. Every company that wants to have creative staff should follow suit.”
Occupation: Researcher and teacher in experimental psychology at Oxford University. Has written several books, the latest of which is Sensehacking: How to Use the Power of Your Senses for Happier, Healthier Living, published in 2020.