Impacts of Personality, Office Layout and Sound on Focus and Wellbeing
Session Recap: Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023

Personality, office design, and ambient noise levels influence the happiness, ability to focus, and stress levels of office workers. As organizations grapple with workplace re-entry, capturing this data to enhance post-COVID workplace ecosystems is a tremendous opportunity.

Speakers Brian Gilligan, Deputy Director and Sustainable Design Expert; Kevin Kampschroer, Chief Sustainability Officer, both a part of the U.S. General Services Administration; and Casey Lindberg, Senior Design Research for HKS, shared their insights in the session Impacts of Personality, Office Layout and Sound on Focus and Wellbeing.

The session featured a discussion between the research and design professionals who conducted the innovative Wellbuilt for Wellbeing project. The project covered how to enhance physical and emotional wellbeing to get people back into office environments. A key component found that the post-COVID work from home setup caused workers to ask more of their office buildings while demanding answers about what the office space can offer them in terms of their overall wellbeing.

There was a significant discrepancy between introversion and extroversion results. Some of the patterns found involved those less happy in the moment within the office setting had a higher tendency to be introverted versus those who categorized themselves as extroverted.

The speakers took some time to address key questions that became common patterns within the project, such as, when doing focused work, what acoustic environment is ideal?

Physiologic wellbeing varied as a function of sound level. According to a graph shown during the presentation, people had the lowest stress response within the environment where they were most comfortable. Comparably, the physiologic response was also listed as stressful when it was too quiet.

The session moderator posed a general question for the speakers: on average, how many days per week do you work in the office?
  • The Federal government – what amenities to get people back? What are you trying to do / accomplish?
  • Some interactions that are better in person; therefore, the main strategy is trying to make the offices more amendable to different types of work in the office.
  • Trying to solve underlying psychological needs to help improve the experience.

  • Workplace 2030 – Earning the commute (study)
  • Starting during the pandemic, the study brought together experts to experiment to research people’s perspectives to see what needs to be done as companies return to the office.
  • It involved asking what the future of the workplace looks like—planning for more acoustical environments and restorative spaces with a connection to nature, as it’s shown to increase mood and personality traits.
  • Measure the settings for the different types of work they will be doing and plan for those scenarios. Use the information to discuss the different types of spaces required and how to implement the changes.

  • Workplace 2030 – Workplace Innovation Lab
  • An office test in Washington, DC, was discussed with different setups so that people could work there and share feedback on what was most comfortable based on their work environment.  
  • The test showed that there is no right answer to designing spaces that are perfect; we need to follow the research to make strides in the right direction. The presentation concluded with the quote: “We are all building the airplane as we fly it,” implying that we need to do the research in a thoughtful qualitative way for our choices to be impactful on employee’s wellbeing. 
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