Sensing a difference

Retail has a history for being ahead of the curve when it comes to ‘pimping up’ environments, providing a destination guaranteed to stimulate and engage in a bid to create better footfall. It has long embraced the idea of building a prime sensory environment and, over the years, shoppers have been invited to indulge the majority of their senses in these surrounds, with certain smells pumped out, along with the tunes, to provide a more conducive environment.

Now it’s the turn of the office. As the concept of ‘wellbeing’ in the workplace takes root, a lot of our clients are looking to fully embrace this state and provide an environment that properly nurtures the senses to provide optimum levels of comfort.

Living walls are proving particularly popular, playing to our need to be surrounded by nature, and are also good for the office as they counter any indoor pollution - plants can absorb pollutants from the air. They help to mute noise and they look extremely striking as well. They get a big ‘thumbs up’ as their presence can have a calming effect and help to promote that critical feeling of wellbeing.

Another winner is strictly visual: We are getting a lot of requests for manifestations with companies experimenting with a variety of edgy and creative designs to provide a focal point. Many businesses are looking for ways for their corporate spaces to make an impact and manifestations serve this purpose well.

In terms of what we can hear, too much noise can be a problem and we are often asked to provide suggestions to address this. We can provide insulation to block external sounds and there are lots of ways to counter nuisance noise in the office (that’s a different blog!) but we also advise on the use of music to create a certain atmosphere and how this can be controlled.

Materials are relevant to our sense of touch and we work with a variety of materials to differentiate between environments eg. Breakout spaces, boardrooms, work stations etc. Specific fabrics have a different feel and encourage us to respond in different ways.

And then there’s smell… On Office recently ran an interview * with Steve Lang, director of the commercial research team at Savills, in which he talks about the untapped potential of scent in workplace design. He questions the fact that we design to take into account sight, sounds and touch and yet we overlook what we could be smelling. We deal with how to block out the potential for unpleasant smells with plans for ventilation and working out the positioning of kitchens and bathrooms yet we don’t consider ways to inject specific smells into the working environment that might sooth, refresh and generally lift the mood.

Lang discusses how some companies have even worked to develop a corporate scent that fits with the brand and supports corporate identity. However, there is a caveat. Smells trigger memories and can drive a mixed bag of emotions depending on the individual. What is pleasing to one person may be an absolute anathema to another. You could also floor key members of your workforce who suffer from allergies or headaches so be very aware when introducing any manufactured smells.


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