How Can Rest Build Creativity, Focus and Wellness at Work?

Five Strategies to Support Rest in the Office

July 15, 2021

Principal, Workplace Strategist, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth and final article in a six-part series on five different work modes. The first piece outlined a framework for each work mode, while subsequent posts explored a single work mode in greater depth — including focus, collaborate, learn, socialize and rest.

This post was co-authored by Kelly Griffin and Edwin Beltran.

The coronavirus crisis has shown more than ever that rest is essential to life — and especially work. It is critical to being effective, productive and creative. Yet rest is typically viewed as a counterpoint to work and a waste of time. While society typically doesn’t think of rest as a critical knowledge-building work mode, it is important to understand the role rest plays in the ability to generate new ideas and build knowledge. As organizations soon return to offices, it is time to think of rest as an essential work mode too.

Neuroscience points to the incredible benefits of rest. A NASA study found that a 26-minute nap can dramatically improve alertness by 54% and performance by 34%. Other studies show that when we sleep, our brains are incredibly active, removing toxins to make way for new growth. (And poor sleep has tremendous costs, not just physically but financially as well. Experts say that U.S. businesses lose $411 billion annually due to reduced performance and lost work from sleep deprivation.)

In the post-pandemic return to the office, restorative rest will be even more essential to health, wellbeing and the ability perform at the highest level in the workplace, both individually and as a member of an organization. The office fortunately can provide these valuable benefits — with the comfort and expanded flexibility found in current work-from-home setups. Here are five strategies to implement in the workplace so employees are refreshed and rejuvenated so creativity and productivity can flourish.

Embrace a culture of rest. To encourage rest in the workplace, it is helpful to first create or reframe organizational guidelines around rest activities. Consider when, where and how employees are most productive when their mental and physical wellbeing are supported. Engage with and observe staff: What restful activities are they drawn to and where do they occur? The key is to be intentional and keep an open mind when implementing new procedures and configurations. An office “rest ambassador” that champions the power of rest can provide a supportive link between staff, leadership and the design team.

Extend opportunities to rest outside the workplace. Promoting restful activities outside the workplace can be beneficial, while encouraging the importance of rest in the community. Cabanas or benches underneath a tree can offer joyful, calming places for respite. Outdoor public spaces with immersive media experiences that feature customizable nature scenes and sounds from around the world can bring the powerful benefits of nature to an urban city block. These scenes can be tailored to adjust to different times of day, seasons, holidays or visitor preferences.

In addition, inspirational slowdown routes or scenic “hikes” that reconnect employees and visitors with the purpose and mission of an organization can re-energize and inspire. For example, restorative, landscaped paths lined with scented plants like rosemary, jasmine and honeysuckle can create moments of rest. They can also be strategically placed at arrival and exit zones and even transform the experience of walking through a parking lot from car to building, bus stop, or drop-off area.

Provide active rest zones to restore and rejuvenate. Rest can be an active and extroverted experience. Areas that allow teams to unplug together can offer unique ways to collectivity unwind, connect with colleagues and perhaps even learn a new skill. For example, sound-proofed music rooms — outfitted with a piano, guitars and drums — can enable staff to come together to create uplifting music that enhances cognition, lowers stress and even improves the immune system. In addition, maker spaces and art studios can also provide opportunities for teams to transfer the creative energy of a soothing hobby into innovation-building and problem-solving at work.

Furthermore, multi-purpose areas or conference spaces can transform into areas for calming group meditation, breathing exercise and yoga stretches with flexible furniture that can be stored away when needed, customizable circadian lighting and built-in speakers with peaceful music. Furniture selections in these spaces could be cleverly tailored to successfully support the dual functions of collaboration and leisure with the ability to change from formal, upright table-side postures to softer, lounging postures. These informal postures can help people feel more relaxed and better able to share ideas.

Offer calming respite spaces for positive passive distractions. Peaceful areas in the office to engage in low-key activities can provide employees much needed opportunities to recharge from the stressors of the day. These spaces can also allow the mind to wander, helping people reflect on bits of information or problems in the background while engaging in other low-demand activities. The best ideas can present themselves when they are least expected.

To refresh the mind, these more introverted spaces can feature garden-like elements that provide the inherent calming benefits of nature. For instance, an indoor room filled with immune-boosting lavender, air-purifying snake plants and natural light — as well as views or access to outdoor green spaces and porches — can offer a meditative place to get away. These spaces could also feature the rejuvenating sounds of running water and gentle bird calls. In healthcare settings, Snoezelen rooms — multi-sensory rooms with gentle lighting, relaxing sounds, soothing scents and tactile materials — have become popular not only as therapeutic offerings for patients, but also as restorative relaxation environments for staff.

These sensory experiences aren’t limited to dedicated rooms of course. They can also include napping zones with comfortable high-backed chairs at the end of a hallway to extra-long window seats in stair landings, both providing relaxing places to reset and reflect. In Google’s South Lake Union workplace, rest in the office is an important component, from a circadian-lit “treehouse” to a jellyfish lounge with dimmed lighting.

Finally, consider implementing a range of workplace setups, from the simple to the advanced. The strategies discussed above can be designed at three levels:

  • Simple. The easiest to implement with changes to behaviors, culture and technology.
  • Medium. Is more robust and increases effectiveness not only through changes to behaviors but strategies to “green up” the space and adjust furniture.
  • Advanced. Provides the maximum benefit with additional spaces and programs that support all aspects of rest.

For example, the hallway napping niche discussed earlier could expand into a dedicated napping zone that supports multiple senses. This could include a designated room in the office with a lounge chair, sound-reducing materials, gentle lighting and cooler temperatures.

Rest has never been considered a critical work mode but it should be. Society is learning that humans, when tired and stressed, do not bring their best ideas to work. The workplace design strategies that support productive rest outlined above can boost wellness and productivity — essential to an organization’s long-term success.

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