Event Recap
AIA Small Firm Symposium: Preparing for the Hybrid Future of Work

03 Nov 2022
Event Organizer: AIA NY State
Event Link
Tagged as: Presenting Virtual , NY

Using Delight as a Metric of Workplace Success to Enhance Productivity

At the recent AIA Small Firm Symposium, PLASTARC presented “Preparing for the Future of Hybrid Work,” with a focus on prioritizing well-being to maximize productivity and fostering a work environment that encourages employee retention and satisfaction. The workplace landscape has shifted in the wake of COVID, placing remote policies and designing for wellness at the core of next-gen workplace strategy.

Executive Director and Founder Melissa Marsh and Sociospatial Designer Amy Rosen focused on mental health, from the perspective of how to run more inclusive, self-aware offices and how to serve our customers by incorporating research and design features that benefit mental and physical well-being. They shared findings from a survey conducted in collaboration with Global Design Alliance, a group of approximately twenty architectural design firms, that found the top priorities identified by participant firms were: employee burnout, attraction and retention, managing culture, and remote onboarding and training.

Marsh noted, “most organizations are spending about ten times the amount on people than they are on property and technology. So if we can influence the performance of an organization using the design of property and technology, then we’re really amplifying or magnifying the human and business benefit.” PLASTARC focuses on the evolution of how office space is used, considers multisensory, holistic design that takes into account variables like space, tech, and policy, and solicits a diversity of voices to hear about different needs in the workplace.

Unsurprisingly, individual productivity tends to improve in a hybrid work environment, but connection with colleagues, and other indices, tend to suffer. Interpersonal connections must be actively cultivated to maintain a company culture that ensures employees feel valued and engaged. The notion of what constitutes “good employee performance” has expanded beyond what we are able to see in a physical office, to include digital and remote work signifiers, and as a result, what constitutes “well-being” has expanded as well. Companies must consider how to foster attachment and creativity, as well as a layer of organizational branding, that communicates their commitment to employee satisfaction.

Rosen explained that “chronic job stress affects brain function, like how a serious knock on the head inflicts a concussion.” It affects our “cerebral skill sets, creativity, ability to contribute as humans to the work environment” and that means that organizations and leaders need to prioritize taking care of employees’ mental health and approach it as a productivity issue. Leaders should be asking questions such as, “How do we provide more respect and appreciation? How do we make sure demands are reasonable?”

There are four types of well-being: emotional, health, financial, and professional. “Professional well-being has the most impact on psychological safety, more than twice that of financial well-being, which has the second-highest impact,” Rosen said. Psychological safety is “a shared belief among team members that they feel comfortable about taking interpersonal risks, like admitting vulnerabilities and owning their mistakes —this directly influences workforce productivity, voluntary turnover and discretionary effort.”

The contribution of employee mental health to the bottom line is often overlooked, but as Rosen put it, “people are profit;” Maintaining the well-being of people should be a primary concern of organizations looking to maximize productivity. What that looks like varies across generations, so organizations need both a top-down and bottom-up point-of-view to best serve all levels of employees.

Younger workers and BIPOC workers tend to be more reluctant to return to the physical office, which is an equity concern in addition to a mental health concern. Building empathy should be a priority in organizations, so elevating the diversity of voices helps further that goal. Marsh and Rosen provided several examples of how to obtain the feedback necessary to envision a healthier workplace, including staff surveys, visioning and leader interviews, workplace analytics, workplace utilization, and focus groups and workshops.

Integrated design is evolving. What used to be high-priority in a physical workspace may be less important in a digital era. Investments may need to shift accordingly, to help workers get what they need in terms of support and technology—whether that means physical accessories to make workspaces more welcoming, or training, counseling, community, and policy that create a better environment for psychological safety and professional well-being.

Organizational health is the sum of mental health, physical health, and social health. By addressing all of these concerns through innovative design, businesses can improve company culture and attract talent that is happier, committed and more productive on the whole.

Offices have long-been spaces for accommodating computers, equipment, work processes, and business infrastructure. Now, more and more, we have an opportunity to think of the office as a place of delight, by focusing on the human experience and we have the quantitative and qualitative tools to measure that delight.