Creating comfortable, practical, and safe spaces in the workplace for conversation is just as important for employee wellbeing as it is for business purposes. Managers and architects alike can utilise design aspects such as acoustics, posture, and spacing to create relaxed areas that prompt open discussion.
Research shows that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem every year and that open conversation can serve as a strong pillar of support. By cultivating comfortable spaces to talk about wellbeing, employers can encourage a stronger sense of community and support of mental health discussion within their organisation.
The way in which our bodies are positioned is greatly linked to how we feel and how we react to others, even if we don’t consciously realise it. When designing an office, the type of seating and how it is arranged can be responsible for influencing the comfort levels of conversation.
Bisley Creative Director Jeanine Goddard can speak to the practical repercussions of both good and bad design on posture. “Low seating, like a sofa or an armchair, encourages people to lean back and feel more comfortable. Positioning two comfortable chairs angled towards each other, for example, can create a nook that works nicely for more relaxed conversation – stripping away formality.”
Different pieces of furniture serve different purposes, though not all furniture pieces are interchangeable in use. “In contrast, using a desk-height table can create a professional barrier which might be appropriate at times, and can also act as a surface to look at documents, take notes, or introduce materials that might aid your conversation,” Goddard continues.
Soundscape design can help boost productivity, focus, and feelings of privacy. A survey found that 60% of office workers were unable to concentrate due to distracting sounds in the office such as other people talking, other phone calls, and colleagues eating.
Furthermore, each individual may react to types of sounds differently. For example, a hypersensitive neurodiverse person might struggle to block out sounds like air conditioning and device alerts, making tasks and discussions more difficult. On the other hand, some people thrive in a buzzy, coffeehouse-like environment.
Designing different types of spaces that account for sound levels can help to facilitate more natural, inclusive conversation. Evan Benway, founder and Managing Director at Moodosonic, recommends creating different sensory zones for people to use. Designing rooms or areas with alternative soundscapes allows for people to select an area that feels most comfortable to them.
Other physical features, such as sound-dampening barriers and furniture, can diffuse sounds as well as create a sense of confidentiality and privacy.
The proximity of desks, walls, and other people impact comfort levels throughout the office and relaxation when it comes to opening up in a conversation.
“People who are more typically introverted might struggle with a conversation that feels too close in proximity to other people, so creating little nooks – whether by using furniture, decoration, or distance or a meeting room or meeting pod– can be an effective way to make sure they’re comfortable,” says Jeanine Goddard.
Again, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution. While one person may enjoy a smaller space of privacy, others may view that space as being confined. Goddard continues, “For them, perhaps leaving the office altogether – getting out into nature for some fresh air as part of a walking meeting – could be a good option.”
The ultimate key: Accounting for balance
At the end of the day, what makes up a comfortable space to hold a conversation is unique to each individual. By utilising inclusive building design, employers can do their best to facilitate open spaces for conversation.
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