February 3, 2019

Designing for Behavior

Ever heard the expression “if you build it, they will come?” This has some merit in the A+D community, but many factors can contribute to a space being used in unintended, incorrect ways or not really used at all. Interior design and psychology go hand in hand. To create successful workplace interiors, designers need to understand the psychology behind their design choices as it relates to human analysis and behavior. By understanding people and the behaviors we want to encourage, we can provide workspaces that inspire, focus, and engage employees. We took a pulse on your thoughts about workplace behaviors. Here’s what you had to say.

What types of workplace behaviors annoy you?

The data revealed that the biggest annoyance at work is noise disruptions. Respondents indicated examples of noise disruptions like typical noise pollution in an open floor plan, loud people who are inconsiderate of their surroundings, and quirks like humming and tapping as key disruptors that distract from work, impeding on productivity. Another key finding about noise that is annoying is a lack of sound privacy. So not only do people find the noise levels of their work environment distracting, they themselves want to have complete sound privacy when talking on the phone or in person with coworkers or clients. To combat these workplace productivity disruptors, designers should consider using materials with a higher sound transmission class (STC) rating. An STC rating communicates how well a material will absorb sound. Including more or higher acoustical property furnishings and materials like tack boards or fabric panels at workstations, acoustical wall tiles, high STC carpets, and sound-masking are just a few ways to help alleviate the big sound problem in open office floor plans.

What types of workplace behaviors delight you?

Great teamwork is by far the most enjoyable behavior to experience at work. Those who took the survey mentioned aspects that contribute to good collaboration like seeing and hearing different perspectives, working together to solve problems and create solutions, and bonding with coworkers. Survey respondents also communicated that having a variety of spaces that support collaboration and informal lounge areas that support impromptu conversations are perceived as positive mood enhancers.

What types of workplace behaviors would you like to encounter more of?

Great teamwork was a key behavior that delighted people at work. It’s understandable that those who do not experience great teamwork want to encounter more of it. Other workplace behaviors people would like to see more of are more collaboration efforts, better communication behaviors, getaway spaces to decompress, and physical wellness activities during or after work.

What strategies have been implemented at work to change behavior?

Most of the strategies that have been implemented to change behavior at work had to do with redesigning the space and furniture to better support collaboration. Examples given were redesigning workstations with lower panels or removing panels altogether, providing more activity spaces, providing a variety of meeting room styles (informal vs formal, small vs large, etc.), and moving departments closer in proximity that frequently collaborate. Other strategies included reconfiguring meeting spaces and speakers by giving everyone an opportunity to lead meetings and moving the furniture in the room into a new layout. Other non-design strategies included the implementation of collaboration software, internal initiatives like fun committees or clubs that promote team building and positive culture changes, and individual status check-ins with team leads or bosses.

Did these strategies work? Why or why not?

Many people said that workplace behaviors are changing for the better with the different strategies they have implemented. Survey respondents are experiencing happier coworkers, more pleasant interactions, and positive culture changes. They are experiencing more empathy, better understanding, and efforts in making each other happy and feel appreciated.

Provide an example of how interior design and/or furniture impacts your behavior at work.

Both positive and negative examples were given of how interior design and furniture impacts behaviors at work. The three negative themes were poor productivity, inefficient use of space, and poor sitting habits. There was a variety of examples that led to poor productivity like poor acoustics, poor lighting, and uncomfortable chairs. The three positive themes were design and furniture that supports a variety of behaviors throughout the day, better standing vs sitting habits with height adjustable desks, and a more welcoming and bright work environment.

Design, furniture, and products play key roles in shaping workplace behavior. If not done properly, it can negatively impact your attention span, distract you from getting work done, contribute to higher impatience levels, raise stress levels, and impede on your overall happiness and comfort. When a workspace is successful, people are happier and more comfortable, they can focus, stay organized, and mentally decompress. There are also opportunities for collaborations to thrive and for coworkers to bond. When designers allow a user’s experience in a space to drive the design decisions, we can greatly contribute to positive behaviors and an enjoyable work experience. By understanding people and what behaviors to support, we can design workspaces where employees feel connected to their workspace, feel inspired to create and collaborate, and feel engaged in their work.

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