In a bid to discover the perfect office environment, researchers in America are facing as many irritations as possible to work out which cause the most stress.
Eight employees of Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic medical-records department have moved to the high-tech Well Living Lab, built to host studies on how the indoor environment influences health, well-being and performance.
With experts well aware that indoor spaces can pose health risks, the idea of creating the ideal office space is an appealing one. Excessive noise is thought to contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease and artificial light can disrupt circadian rhythms and may increase the risk of certain cancers. Workplace stress is thought to cost hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide each year in sick days, health-care costs and lost productivity.
“We spend 90 per cent of out time indoors,” says Brent Bauer, the Well Living Lab’s medical director. “If we don’t optimize that, we’re going to have a hard time optimizing wellness as a whole”.
The eight workers have been tested with fluctuating temperatures, brighter overhead lights and a change in the tint of the large, glass windows. Irritating office sounds have been played through speakers embedded in the ceilings: a ringing phone, the clack of computer keys, a male voice saying, “medical records”, as if answering the phone.
Scientists also plan to test whether certain environmental factors, such as changing flooring and surface materials or installing a “green wall” of living plants can alter the office’s microbes and the health of the people working there.
The employees are being closely monitored by scientists down the corridor, who are able to measure their heart-rate variability and the electrical conductance of their skin – both basic measures of stress. Daily surveys are also being conducted, examining comfort, satisfaction, productivity and stress.
Scientists hope that the lab will allow them to produce practice, evidence-based recommendations for creating healthier indoor spaces ranging offices to homes.