For some time now retailers and leisure operators have been harnessing lessons from neuroscience to effect behavioural change. Over the last 30 years, scientists have learned how our sensory processes work and can now accurately predict how we will behave when presented with certain environmental cues. This knowledge can be applied to the design of our surroundings in order to influence attention, behaviour and motivation.
We initially undertook this research to examine our approach to the design of learning spaces. Rather than using neuroscience to get consumers to buy more, could we use it to encourage greater ‘buy-in’ to the learning experience? How can we optimise the space using our understanding of neuroscience and behavioural ergonomics? Key aspects of what we discovered are equally relevant to working environments where focus, motivation and attention are the key to greater productivity. In other words, you get more done if the environment’s right.
Here are five lessons from neuroscience to boost office productivity:
1 – Creating zones with a distinct identity primes behaviour appropriate to the space.
We instinctively behave differently in a library to how we would in a pub because we are primed through associative memory. It’s the same in the work place. If you create a buzzy social hub, that’s where people will head to talk, meet and socialise. If you create a quiet area for uninterrupted work, people will talk in hushed whispers so as not to disturb others. It’s about providing distinct spaces appropriate for different tasks so you can ‘get in the zone’ and stay focused on the task.
2 – Break down the barriers created by ‘desk territory’
We tend to sit in the same place every day – at our desk. But this territorial behaviour restricts social interaction and can encourage cliques. Creating shared spaces breaks down barriers, encourages greater collaboration and creates more opportunities for serendipitous encounters.
3 – Writable surfaces strengthen neuronal pathways
Visual communication and the ability to explain ideas through sketching or scribing facilitates learning because it strengthens the neuronal pathways to the brain, providing additional routes to enable recall from the long term memory. So if you’re trying to get your collective heads around something new, mapping out a process, generating new ideas or problem solving, large scale whiteboard installations and writable surfaces can help you raise your game and keep the whole team up to speed.
4 – Flexibility = Ownership
Research shows that people are more invested in environments they create. If you enable your staff to arrange their workspace themselves you may see productivity gains of up to 32% according to research out of Exeter University. An agile, flexible space over which employees can develop a sense of ownership is key.
5 – Aesthetics matter
We are hardwired to respond to good design and may even seek it out to experience a release of pleasure enhancing neurochemicals in the brain, research shows. If a workspace is visually appealing, people will want to be inside it and come back. Actively enjoying being in the office rather than actively avoiding it can only be a good thing for productivity.