Yesterday was world mental health day. While this is a global issue it is especially important to the commercial property industry. I was shocked to learn that more than 1 million people call in sick every day due to workplace-related stress. For this reason depression is considered the most costly disease, depression and anxiety are said to cost around $1 trillion annually in lost productivity. Given we live in a world where we are constantly bombarded by email and our workloads are bigger than ever before, perhaps that figure isn’t so alarming. Our day to day has become a blur of meetings, deadlines and phone calls, leaving us all feeling tired and stretched far too thin. Even still, the World Health Organization says that, “work is good for mental health but a negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems.” As a result, many companies are now looking for ways to address burnout through workplace wellness.
There’s been plenty of talk about what works best when it comes to wellness, from subsidized fitness memberships to nap pods, but one of the most popular remedies gaining traction is meditation. Brands like Spanx, Starbucks and Google are embracing everything from providing expert meditation training sessions and creating designated focus areas, to offering on-site yoga classes. And there’s extensive research that demonstrates the effectiveness of meditation on employee productivity, as well as health and overall happiness.
Work-life balance is increasingly becoming more about work-life integration. Working with a company like ROOM, where we’re focused on the evolution of the modern workplace, I have been thinking quite a bit about wellness, and meditation in particular, as it relates to design and the environments around us. Finding a balance is difficult. There is no magic formula, but I believe there are elements that every company needs to consider when it comes to designing a space that is conducive to meditation and mindfulness in the workplace.
Designing for Meditation in the Workplace
In order to foster a rich, thriving environment, workplace leaders need to be flexible and be willing to provide employees with a range of options and environments that reflect their personal preferences and needs.
When we talk about creating a workplace that creates a comfortable environment for meditation, my mind of course immediately gravitates to design, but there are fundamentals that need to happen across an organization to encourage wellbeing at work. For me, it all starts with culture. In order for people to develop healthy workplace habits, companies have a responsibility to look at the values that they put forward.
As a startup, we are constantly reflecting on and fine-tuning our values. We want to ensure that the physical office space that people walk into every day contributes to their wellness and their satisfaction. Every individual interprets and feels environments differently, and companies need to be aware that the spaces we work within have profound effects on our state of mind, and our productivity.
Ensuring that wellness is a core company value is only one part of the puzzle. Equally as important is embodying those values. It might seem small, but something as simple as creating a private place in noisy open office environments for team members to tune out and tune into their thoughts, can shift the mindset around wellbeing at work.
Creating the Space to Breathe and Think
Although most offices have conference rooms or “quiet zones,” they don’t do much to encourage or inspire mindfulness or relaxation. For starters, they aren’t very private. To meet the needs of true meditation, I recommend that companies create an entirely separate space that is completely dedicated to mindfulness.
One of the principles of mindful office design is to remove any distractions, such as foot traffic or ringing phones, to help people mentally and physically disconnect. The best way to achieve this is a quiet, private area, free of colleagues or devices. Just having a space to escape to can be incredibly liberating
When I designed the ROOM headquarters in NYC’s bustling Soho neighborhood, finding ways to incorporate sensory stimulation was an extremely important part of creating a space that felt comfortable and inviting. A lot of companies forget to account for our senses, or try and get it wrong. But if done right, it can have a remarkable impact on behaviors and stress levels. Natural light and views that highlight nature are elements that make a space feel instantly calming, and can have a profound effect on our wellbeing. And finding ways to mask disruptive office sounds, like alternate insulation materials such as wool or felt, can heighten mindfulness as well.
What I love most about designing a space for mindfulness is integrating color and texture. I want to make people feel comfortable as soon as they enter the space. Utilizing natural surfaces, like timber or bamboo provide tactile stimulation and a break from the harsh lines and materials most commonly used in traditional office spaces.
To create a relaxed effect, a room for mindfulness or meditation should have neutral tones and incorporate natural textures. When it comes to choosing color, shades like earthy greens, soft whites or pale blues can trigger the mind to relax. I also try to incorporate plants wherever possible, as nature immediately conjures up feelings of calm.
The Calm-bination: When Meditation and Design Come Together
The more I considered the latest wellness in the workplace statistics, the stronger I felt about creating an environment that addressed the rising levels of stress and anxiety at work. Our flagship office phone booths prioritize providing employees with privacy, peace and quiet, but I knew we could focus more on the peaceful aspect.
We created a new partnership with Calm, the number one app for meditation, relaxation and sleep, to combat the growing challenges of workplace burnout. Together we developed the Calm Booth by ROOM which offers a respite for employees in an always-on work world, giving them a place to take a deep breath in a comforting, thoughtfully designed environment that also offers premium access to the incredible content offered by Calm. And when integrated at work, mindfulness has been shown to have a positive effect on our stress hormone levels, concentration, memory, creativity, emotional intelligence, motivation and job performance.
Chronic stress and burnout are serious issues that are challenging the workplace and the global workforce. While practicing meditation and mindfulness might not reduce the number of meetings or emails in our inboxes, it does provide a moment to slow down, refocus and take a few minutes for ourselves. As workplace leaders we know that our talent is our most significant asset, and investing in the wellness of your workforce best sets our team members—and our businesses—up for long-term wellbeing.