Can Better Workplace Designs Cut Employee Stress, Bolster Wellbeing? (Spacesmith)

Abrams Publishing HQ NYC 2017

As stress and anxiety continue to negatively affect workplaces across the country, leading architects and designers are conceiving better workplaces that focus on employee wellbeing and de-stressing. In a recent survey by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, 72% of workers with daily stress and anxiety say it interferes with their lives at least moderately.

Experts in workplace design including Spacesmith are proactively including wellness and mindfulness design techniques in their new office, headquarters and other workplace projects. In recent writings, Spacesmith principal Ámbar Margarida and associate Amy Jarvis have revealed valuable ways that work spaces impact employee wellbeing.

“What you are seeing, hearing, and experiencing at any moment is changing not only your mood, but how your nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are working,” writes Ámbar Margarida, CID, IIDA, Assoc. AIA, LEED GA, WELL AP, in her essay “Trauma Informed Design.” She adds, “The stress of an unpleasant environment can cause you to feel uneasy, sad, or helpless. This in turn elevates your blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension, and suppresses your immune system. A pleasing environment can reverse that.”

For example, studies show that environments hosting trauma-experienced individuals — such as airports, hospitals, and shelters — should be designed as the most welcoming, calming, and safe places possible, while providing varying degrees of privacy. Margarida recommends minimizing unnecessary ambient noises, limiting visual complexity (such as distracting patterns on the walls or flooring), and incorporating cool colors — blue, green, purple — that  are shown to have a calming effect.

Along similar lines, Amy Jarvis, AIA, highlighted other wellness design techniques in her blog, “Designed to De-Stress.” Says Jarvis, “Workplace stress will never go away 100%, but we can do our best as employers and designers to prevent undue stress from monopolizing our energy and focus by implementing the tools at our disposal.”

MarketAxess NYC 2019

To start, employers can reinforce their brand in ways that promote collective enthusiasm and reinforce the hard work completed by staff members. Highlighting newly completed projects or initiatives on displays or screens in common areas can help, as can the use of brand colors to distinguish the workplace for team pride in sharing with customers, clients and visitors.

Spacesmith has implemented these techniques in several recent projects including large-scale corporate headquarters and nonprofit offices, as well as a large multifamily residential complex. Examples include the global financial technology firm MarketAxess, webcam technology company EarthCam, and a social services provider, New York Legal Assistance Group.