How Do You Redefine and Create a New Rhythm of Life?

An evidenced-based approach to elevate workplace experience, health and performance.

August 13, 2020

Design Principal, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This post was co-authored by Edwin Beltran, Andy Snyder and Suzanne Carlson.

Workplace stress has a significant impact on health and productivity in normal times — but it has become a larger challenge in the current climate as people grapple with high unemployment, social distancing and general uncertainty. As organizations evolve new models for remote and in-office work, the wellbeing and engagement of their employees remains critical to their sustained success. This moment presents a unique opportunity to reimagine a better workplace — not just safer, but also less stressful and more productive, supporting a more purposeful rhythm of the day.

Neuroscience research provides crucial insights into stress, engagement and productivity. Humans are social creatures that find safety in relationships and nature, and are impacted by their environments in ways both large and small. This has important implications for how to design workplaces in an era of stress and uncertainty, suggesting new approaches that better respond to fundamental human needs.

Grounded in neuroscience research from Dr. John Medina as part of the NBBJ Fellowship Program, this post explores ideas on how to elevate workplace experience. Three of these concepts —Paths, Hubs and Nooks— provide people with opportunities to recharge and engage, promoting a new, more uplifting workday experience.

 

Paths

Paths serve as spaces to escape from daily routines, providing opportunities to exercise, find respite and refuge or connect with nature. They can be created out of utilitarian indoor spaces like stairs or hallways, and incorporate several elements shown to reduce stress and improve productivity. Paths can also be created in outdoor settings, creating intentional journeys through curated landscapes with points of interest that encourage people to pause and slow down.

 

 

Nooks

Nooks are calming oases distributed throughout the workplace, particularly in underutilized spaces, that incorporate circadian lighting, natural sounds and moments of delight. Nooks promote mental and physical restoration through mindful slowdowns and positive distractions, which have been shown to reduce stress. They can be programmed to provide immersive experiences, or a supportive environment for a restorative nap, conversation or meditation.

 

 

Hubs

Hubs are larger-scale restorative amenities that promote social connection, connection to nature or restorative breaks.  Intended for groups of people, hubs can be created within repurposed indoor spaces or outdoors, and can be programmed with engaging activities like exercise or meditation. Hubs can range from immersive audiovisual experiences, to lounges and chill-out rooms, to indoor gardens that could double as meeting and conference spaces.

 

 

These ideas are part of a comprehensive report by the NBBJ Fellowship Program which outlines how to create new work rhythms, ways to mitigate stress for frontline healthcare workers and how to remain human in a hybrid virtual-physical world.  To learn more about these concepts and the supporting research, please email socialmedia@nbbj.com to receive a downloadable PDF of the full report.

 

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Six Design Strategies To Reduce Healthcare Worker Stress During The Coronavirus Pandemic

July 13, 2020

Healthcare Partner, NBBJ

Editor’s note: Our healthcare clients are on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. We seek to support them as they courageously care for the sick. So we’re posting design ideas based on work with them, in the hope that we can contribute from our base of expertise to help combat the epidemic. From all of us at NBBJ to the many doctors, nurses and support staff in hospitals and clinics, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

This post initially appeared on Forbes. It was co-authored by Ryan Hullinger and Sarah Markovitz.

 

Frontline healthcare workers face enormous stressors during normal times, but especially today during the pandemic: fear of contracting the virus, concern for protecting their families, grief over watching patients die, and anxiety over resource rationing decisions. Tragically, these issues are increasing healthcare provider stress and harming their mental health, as some begin to display symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Even before the pandemic, levels of stress and burnout in healthcare workers were high. Fifteen percent of nurses reported feelings of burnout in a 2019 survey. Burnout is among the leading patient safety and quality concerns among healthcare organizations, as it can decrease work performance and increase risk of errors.

Although we can’t completely remove stress in the healthcare setting, changes in the environment may help boost employee resilience. Mindfulness micro practices—such as micro-breaks and a variety of respite spaces in which to take them—can mitigate stress. Meanwhile, developing resilience practices in the immediate setting where they are needed most could reinforce the impact of these practices. As the coronavirus continues, and we anticipate new pandemics ahead of us, how can we improve the experience now and for future events? We propose the following design solutions for hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

Rethink The Break Room

Taking breaks can help improve productivity and prevent burnout, yet healthcare workers may be reluctant to take them, especially in times of crisis. We need to ensure that when a break does happen, the environment is optimized for caregiver decompression, support and restoration.

One way is to transform the break room into an oasis of respite, where employees can relax and meditate. The first is to employ the power of nature to boost resilience and cognition. Research illuminates that surrounding ourselves with real or simulated green plants can lower our physiological stress response, such as blood pressure and heart rate. Break rooms with windows that face gardens, trees and other green spaces can take advantage of these critical nature benefits. Artwork or wall graphics of a forest, rolling countryside or green lawn, can help too, as can the introduction of birdsongs and other natural sounds.

Leverage Underutilized Corridor Spaces

Micro-break spaces along typical pathways, such as corridors and alcoves may decrease stress and boost wellness. For example, underutilized areas along a nurse’s route or a physician’s daily rounds can transform into a variety of calming alcoves for a moment’s rest. These spaces could include soft-cushioned chairs with ottomans and seating booths for solo rest or a quiet place to call family. In addition, corridor ends with a comfortable couch and views to the outdoors can offer a peaceful retreat, and with the addition of a whiteboard, can also allow staff to informally connect and share knowledge.

Provide Areas For Physical Exercise

Movement and physical fitness — especially high-intensity aerobic exercise — offers a host of short-term and long-term benefits, such as improved memory, a boost in mood, enhanced cognitive function and better quality of life. Walks in nature and views of green plants can help reset the harmful effects of sustained stress. Outdoor gardens can provide exercise and the restorative effects of nature.

Offer Immersive Respite Pods 

It is crucial to bring respite to those who need it most, from ICU nurses to emergency department physicians to support staff. One approach under development is called the mobile respite pod. This indoor modular system can provide a customizable and sensory experience to promote rest, relaxation and meditation. Inviting seating, adjustable lighting, calming sounds and green forest or ocean imagery may help healthcare workers recharge in their preferred way. Meanwhile UV lights engaged before and after each use could provide a convenient cleaning process. Designed to be easy to assemble and break down on site, these pods, offered in various sizes, could be installed in currently underutilized areas like waiting rooms or lobbies, or even outside in plazas or near gardens.

Decrease Stress At The Bedside

The opportunities for reducing healthcare worker stress are not limited to staff areas. In fact, many of the best opportunities are right next to the patients. We have long understood that high noise levels and incessant equipment alarms in patient areas are anxiety-producing for patients, families and healthcare workers’ communication, wellbeing and performance. Alarm fatigue is proven to decrease focus and memory, raise cortisol levels, lower concentration and even provoke a negative immune system response. Studies indicate background noise above 45 decibels can create adverse effects, and many healthcare settings are much louder than that. Simple environmental strategies like providing white noise, employing sound-absorbing materials and using smoother cart wheels are all beneficial.

Consider The Return On Investment

As we addressed in an earlier Forbes column, hospital systems currently face extraordinarily difficult financial challenges, so every solution needs to be carefully vetted in terms of costs and benefits. While some of the proposals above would have very little cost impact, others (like the respite pods) would require a larger investment. It is important to note, however, that the cost of not responding to provider stress is perhaps the highest of all.

Last year—even before the COVID outbreak—healthcare organizations on average faced 17.8% staff turnover. This came at a huge cost, averaging more than $60,000 for replacing a registered nurse and $500,000 for replacing a physician. Decreasing staff turnover by just 2% could save the average hospital over half a million dollars per year, and could quickly offset the construction cost for many supportive environmental solutions.

Our society has rightly reframed healthcare workers as heroes, who are sacrificing so much of their own security every day in order to save others. It is our hope that this new-found societal recognition will not be squandered, but will instead generate unprecedented advocacy and investment in the emotional safety and well-being of our nation’s devoted front line staff.

 

How are you and your healthcare organization dealing with the coronavirus? We’d like to hear from you. Drop us a line at socialmedia@nbbj.com.

Banner image courtesy Frank Oudeman.

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Buildings in Conversation with the City

Four Opportunities for Commercial Offices to Build Connection Among Tenants and the Community

July 9, 2020

Principal, ESI Design, an NBBJ Studio

Editor’s Note: This post was co-authored by Emily Webster, Chris Niederer and Tim Johnson.

 

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

As our cities reopen following the pandemic, they feel much quieter than usual. The coronavirus has disconnected us from each other and our urban spaces. Given this shift, how can we re-engage with them in meaningful and effective ways?

One of the first places we will return to will be commercial office buildings, which can serve as powerful catalysts for reconnecting us with our communities. To create more engaged and healthier urban centers, our buildings can provide experiences that celebrate, amplify and augment these spaces. Below we outline a series of experience design ideas and strategies — which can easily shift and evolve — that commercial buildings could employ to reinvigorate civic life.

 

Rethink the Lobby

It is important to prioritize elements that reduce stress for tenants who return to the office building, beyond communicating social distancing protocols. One way is to employ nature’s science-backed calming effects. Numerous studies demonstrate looking at nature — even simulated — is proven to lower blood pressure and heart rate. Digital views of nature that respond to people’s movements can provide a rejuvenating enclave in a busy urban environment — and greet building lobby visitors with delight even when there is no front desk staff present. Immersive installations can provide a comforting animated landscape inspired by local surroundings, with digital flora and fauna welcoming and interacting with visitors as they walk by. Light installations can also simulate the supremely calming experience of sunlight hitting water ripples to create unique meditative moments.

These digital layers could be customized at any time, not only to create a livelier environment, but to act as a communications platform that offers an air of exclusivity never experienced before in a multi-tenant building. Lobby media architecture could be tailored for specific tenants to provide unique branding experiences. In a world with proposed timed tenant entries for high rises, lobbies of multi-tenant buildings could become intimately branded for one tenant’s arrival time via specific messages and graphics for their employees to create a more personalized experience. On the weekend, these displays could engage the surrounding neighborhood by showcasing local public art, environmental data, or educational information.

Meanwhile, digital installations can also reinvigorate lobbies in aging or historically-significant buildings, while also providing visibility to street passerby. Media architecture that changes with the weather, seasons, and other neighborhood inputs can bring dynamism and sophistication to urban icons that a static art piece cannot. Custom human-scale lighting installations can also bring warmth to landmark buildings and transform areas of frequent movement (people entering and exiting) into destinations too by inviting tenants to sit and take in the digital art.

 

Address the “Front Porch”

Consider the space outside your commercial building. How can you create a more welcoming presence that invites not just tenants, but passersby to stay and linger in a safe and socially-distanced manner? While a plaza filled with seating and chairs provide places for people to sit, consider an element of surprise or serendipity to maintain engagement. Temporary graphics and pop-up interactive digital “sculptures” which can also serve as seating, exercise equipment or play structures for children, can encourage people to explore and linger in their neighborhood throughout the week and weekend.

Design that engages the senses — through thoughtful and dynamic exterior lighting, soundscapes, landscaping and water features installed outside commercial buildings — could help reunite us with our cities. Interactive multistory digital façades can enliven barren spaces while offering a sense of respite for building tenants and the community. An LED light trellis can become a living wall, simulating dappled light through trees via data-driven animations. This type of installation can transform a former concrete wall into soothing lights to create a peaceful moment, both during the day and at night, at the center of a busy city.

Neuroscience shows “prospect and refuge” — the ability to both survey a space and also find shelter — is hardwired into our brains. More permanent exterior design solutions could provide this. For example, iconic entry canopies can protect people from the elements, while small roofed structures placed in plazas can create socially-distanced niches for reading, lounging and people-watching, as well as areas for farmer’s market stalls. To redefine the street-front, immersive digital entry portals can serve as a neighborhood anchor and branding experience. An exterior-interior multimedia installation can create a new identity that is both a lighting surface, content display and architectural enhancement. Unique digital displays can wrap around building exteriors and move into the interior to offer a dynamic media element that can evolve as needed. Etched glass layered on top of different LED resolutions can create a seamless digital experience that renews an aging building.

 

Be a Good Neighbor

To help reactivate the city and extend the network of building users on a daily basis, commercial buildings could host a series of rotating platforms that artists can use to enliven empty or underutilized commercial space. In addition to independent artists, these vacant commercial spaces could also allow cultural institutions to show more of their collections. In New York City, the Museum of Modern Art only has space to display 30% of its full collection — which contains more than 200,000 pieces — while the Guggenheim Museum only shows 3% of its works. By distributing these artworks throughout the city, taking advantage of newly released real estate, museums could utilize highly visible spaces and extend where and how people see art. For example, the Rijksmuseum store at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam utilizes empty retail space, and was the first art museum in the world to open a new branch at an airport.

Art walks have long been a popular urban event. In this spirit, commercial buildings could go a step further and develop partnerships with local civic or business improvement districts (BID) or even each other to bring amenities outdoors and repurpose underutilized areas, sidewalks or vacated parking spaces for outdoor dining, pop-up retail and more. In New York, the Madison Square Park Conservancy produces a popular culinary pop-up market, Mad Sq. Eats, which draws local restaurants from around the city into an underutilized plaza. This program brings the kitchen to the street to not only create a welcoming public outdoor dining experience, but also bring greater visibility to the community and neighboring businesses.

Temporary educational signage posted on or near commercial buildings can also encourage people to reconnect with their urban communities. For example, sidewalk decals can provide self-guided tours that help people learn about the history and significance of local architecture. Philadelphia’s robust wayfinding system features color-coded maps throughout its diverse urban neighborhoods to spotlight the city’s iconic built environment, orient visitors and help locals better navigate their city.

With dramatic drops in car traffic due to stay-at-home orders, some cities are temporarily and permanently closing their streets to serve pedestrians, bikes and other social-distanced activities. Some of these spaces have transformed into neighborhood greenways or linear street “parks.” Adjacent commercial buildings can take advantage of these areas to better connect tenants, residents and visitors alike. To create a safer pedestrian environment, LED mesh street overlay lights can provide greater visibility and direct cars away from these areas at night.

 

Build Community via the Skyline

Commercial buildings can create conversations with their cities and differentiate themselves in a crowded skyline. Digital exterior screens, perhaps even sponsored by tenants, can convey engaging messages for the city that could rotate monthly. Large-scale media installations across a set of buildings can create an expansive canvas for storytelling.

While cities and buildings have used crown lighting to show support for holidays, the expression is limited to colors and patterns. What if urban residents and visitors could contribute imagery, or words, to the installation? Could there be an audio component that people could tune into to hear stories or oral histories? Through these elements, city residents could see themselves represented in the buildings that surround them. Currently, the artist Jim Campbell captures daily recordings of city life in San Francisco and displays them on the top of the Salesforce Tower, which can be seen up to 20 miles away at night. National Geographic has projected wildlife photography on buildings around the world, from the Empire State Building to the United Nations headquarters via its Photo Ark initiative.

What if we transformed our skylines through user-generated content and through community engagement? To create space in the skyline that reflects the people who inhabit each urban neighborhood allows residents to simultaneously become the directors, performers and audience of these installations. By prioritizing the collective and setting aside our individualism, we may better unify our communities. Ultimately, it’s not about how a building can stand out on the skyline — it’s about how our buildings can contribute to the greater good of the city to become part of the identity and fabric of our city centers.

 

In Summary

The coronavirus has changed the urban experience and the way we interact. To create more livable and resilient cities, commercial office buildings are an important piece of the puzzle. They must open themselves up to their communities and engage their urban centers in more expressive ways, through opportunities that support social engagement, culture, health and wellness. The resulting economic benefits, but also social and environmental ones too, could help reposition a building’s assets and strengthen our neighborhoods.

 

How are you and your organization dealing with the coronavirus? We’d like to hear from you. Drop us a line at socialmedia@nbbj.com.

Banner image courtesy ESI Design, an NBBJ Studio.

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