For the benefit of many
We are well aware of the ongoing research pursued in the fields of technology, medicine and industry to improve our world and the quality of life for many people. But we know far less about how our work environment affects our well-being and the economic performance of companies (and consequently of the country) as a whole. Interior designer and researcher Alexandra Moore can tell us more.
Just over eighteen months ago, on a cold February evening during the Stockholm Furniture Fair, an important ceremony was held at the city’s concert hall. Numerous representatives of the industry were among the audience of almost a thousand people as five of the most prestigious Swedish design awards were presented. One of the most eagerly awaited went to Alexandra Moore, interior designer, economist and doctoral student, who had applied for the Jarl Andersson grant worth 250,000 kronor: it had been established by the Kinnarps founder in 1999 with the aim of promoting the development of visionary ideas and concepts on future work environments. The jury gives priority to candidates with a passionate interest in their work, which should also be of interest to architects and others who work in interior design and has the potential to benefit many people.
And so the concert hall’s spotlights were directed at our candidate, who listened full of anticipation as the jury read out its verdict: “Alexandra Moore’s research project ‘Design factors for well-being in the work environment’ explores one of our society’s major contemporary problems – that of ill-health linked to the workplace. The grant committee’s unanimous verdict is that, thanks to her strong commitment, trans-disciplinary vision and grounding in the world of research, Alexandra Moore has contributed new insights into creating a healthier work life in which individual energies can be more effectively used.”
Alexandra Moore responded after receiving the award, “This was both a great honour and a piece of good fortune, as the award enabled me to continue my project. Research is a long and costly process and it is hard to obtain funds, despite the fact that the topic ought to be important to so many people”. Important to employees who might go more happily to work, to companies whose workforce could boost their performance as well as for the GNP of the whole country in the long term. Not least at a time when the number of people written off sick from work has reached such dramatic proportions. So today’s research into the work environment also concerns productivity and cost-effectiveness and its basic motto could well be: far better to be creative and harmonious than stressed and burnt-out!
COMBINATIONS OF LIGHT, SOUND AND COLOUR
The first project to be realised thanks to the Jarl Andersson grant is one of many case studies in the thesis she is working on: in brief, it aims to test various combinations of design factors to see how they affect the well-being of employees working in open-plan offices. More specifically, it looked at the employees of TeliaSonera’s customer service centre in Sweden. A major experiment in a real environment that yielded more credible and realistic results – the reality-link was also the project’s strength and unique feature. After all, research experiments tend to be conducted in the lab with simulated environments.
“Absolutely the most important aspect of all my research is to understand how levels of well-being and work performance are affected. How energy, efficiency and commitment can be boosted by working with design factors such as light, sound and colour. The aim is to stimulate several senses in just the right way”, points out Alexandra.
How did she conduct the case study and what conclusions did she draw? She varied the office environment by selectively combining several factors at different time periods separated by breaks. This involved deliberately changing the atmosphere in the room by combining a colour from the warm or cool end of the scale with two different light intensities and sound levels. At the same time, personal objects were either left in place on individual workplaces or were taken away. After each combination, the reactions of the participants were measured with the aid of a specially designed survey that was subsequently analysed: it showed that various design factors in the physical environment definitely affect well-being. Colour is thought to affect our well-being and energy levels most, whereas people’s position in the room proved to be important for their feeling of involvement and the presence of personal belongings enhanced wellbeing. It was also shown to be important to be able to rest the eyes on something pleasant, such as a view from a window, green plants or artworks.
TO BE CONTINUED
But don’t imagine that you will boost the efficiency of your employees merely by painting a background wall in a warm colour. Even if relatively minor changes can have surprising results, a profound knowledge is needed of the precise relationship between design factors and well-being. It is important to create a control instrument that can be adapted to each company and organization. And this is just what Alexandra Moore intends to continue investigating. But she combines this time-intensive work with a part-time job at Tema Arkitekter, an activity she has no intention of giving up because contacts in the industry are invaluable for keeping abreast of developments.
In her continued case studies, as she works to complete and ultimately defend her thesis, Moore hopes to link well-being to both cost-effectiveness and productivity as well as to see this relationship in a longer perspective, with conclusions that really should be of interest to most corporate leaders.The final results should be ready in the near future.
“Everything depends on just how successful I am in obtaining new funding for my research”, says the future holder of a doctorate in the work environment.