If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that working from home may not actually be as cool as we thought. Sure, working from your couch might be great for a few days, but for years on end? It's not for everyone. But by now you may have reached the end of the work-from-home tunnel and returned to an office—or will soon. What if you want to blend a little bit of your calmer, more personalized remote-work style with your professional environment to make it a less stressful, sterile place, and a little more serene? There are a few smart solutions for that, and it's important to set up the work space that works for you.
"Having a calm workplace can be beneficial for our overall well-being, productivity, and job satisfaction," says Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, psychologist and media advisor for the Hope for Depression Research Foundation. "If we feel calm, we're able to sustain focus, feel happy, feel safe, and enjoy the work that we're doing."
It's not rocket science, but it does require a little planning and know-how—for both employees and employers. If you need help creating that calming vibe in a professional environment, here's some interior designer-approved advice on crafting a workspace that will make you feel right at, well, home.
Choose a color that calms you.
Creating a calming workspace begins with the most basic element: color.
"Colors have a big impact on how we feel," explains Alejandra Albarrán, vice president, workspace design and strategy at ROOM, a company that creates soundproof office privacy solutions. "Research shows that people feel more joy from environments that have plenty of color and texture, and we feel more relaxed in environments that have neutral colors that remind us of nature."
Need help picking a calming color? Tamra Fuscaldo, director of interior design at M+A Architects, suggests starting with the "cool" stuff. "In color theory, cool colors like blue, green, and purple are more calming, especially when their hues are lighter in tone," Fuscaldo says. "Think softer versus brighter if you want to reduce anxiety or stress within a space.
Fuscaldo's favorite color for a space is green, which, she says, is a very "stable color" that can "have a balancing or harmonizing effect." For a more soothing effect, Fuscaldo suggests neutral colors or complementary colors. She importantly notes it's wise for employers to consider their neurodiverse employees and, one, avoid incorporating too many patterns with color, and two, select a flat finish vs. a gloss to "allow for concentration and to avoid triggering anxieties."
Consider textures and materials.
As Albarrán explains, we absorb the world "through our senses, and the elements in an environment like sound, light, and aesthetics influence our perception and behavior." Because of this, with furniture and materials, we "need to realize that what we touch has a big impact on what we make up of a space." Consider not just the shape of furnishings, but how they make us feel and how they'll enhance the space for what you're using it for.
"A lounge area with soft seating will encourage a more relaxed body position and hence a more casual environment, contrary to a work area with a desk and an office chair that will keep us at an upright position suited for focused, productive work," Albarrán says. "A wellness room will have natural fibers and neutral colors to soothe the senses. A community space will most likely offer a mix of textures, colors, and seating options to promote a high-energy atmosphere."
Make it feel familiar, yet uncluttered.
Again, a lot of good things came from working from home, like a more casual, relaxed feeling throughout the day, so Fuscaldo says it's OK to bring that atmosphere into the workplace.
"The desire to personalize your space might still be there for those who would require a designated space, but should still be kept clear and uncluttered for ease of cleaning. A clean workstation free of clutter calms and clears the mind," she says.
Fuscaldo notes, employers can also encourage personalization in common areas. "For instance, instead of having your pictures of your family on your desk, there may be a communal space like a cafe where you would have a collection of personal items on an experiential wall or kiosk that you share with your colleagues," she suggests. "It will be more about the social connection through sharing that will take center stage."
BYO air purifier.
Besides having a really good ergonomic chair for comfort, along with a comfortable sit/stand desk, Albarrán notes one key ingredient to creating a calming workplace environment: the temperature.
"It's directly related to our level of comfort, and everyone has a different level of tolerance. Workplaces kept too warm or too cold can have a negative impact on our well-being, productivity, and our desire to be there," she says. "It's important to be able to control the temperature in the room to what we need. Air quality is another key consideration when it comes to designing a space. Clean air positively impacts our productivity and helps with concentration."
Find a place for privacy.
Open floor plans may have been all the rage over the last 10 or so years, but as Albarrán says, it's still important to give people the "luxury of choice" when it comes to working collaboratively and having privacy.
"In order to thrive in a workplace environment, we need to offer team members the luxury of choice. Our needs within a typical workday will vary greatly. We will need spaces to do focused work, but we will also need places to socialize and collaborate. A healthy workspace will provide for all types of activities," Albarrán says. Offering private phone booths or focus rooms is an easy way to provide the privacy people crave without taking up a ton of space. And if they aren't offered at your place of work, it's worth finding a way to create a makeshift personal space.
Lira de la Rosa agrees, explaining that managers need to consider their varied staff and each of their individual needs. "Some employees need time to recharge, and [privacy] can help them feel calm," Lira de la Rosa says. "So it may be important to have a mix of office spaces so that employees have options."
Designing with intention for experience, Fuscaldo says, provides "a parallel to the spaces we have at home, and with that comes greater connectivity and potential for that elusive work/life balance," Fuscaldo adds. "You will see that every generation has an ideal work environment based on their specific needs and work styles. Designing to accommodate those needs will be imperative for workplace recruitment and retention."
Now if only corporate offices would change their attire policies to include sweatpants, we'd be all set.