RESPITE SPACES 

By: Giselle Walsh, sustainability passionista and researcher with ThinkLab, the new research division of Interior Design Media

 

When Atypical Becomes the Typical, Respite Spaces Provide Reprieve

In today’s do-more-with-less society, the workforce is feeling the pressure to perform and many employees are taking note and looking for ways to eliminate stress in the workplace.

In today’s do-more-with-less society, the workforce is feeling the pressure to perform. Employees are given more tasks to accomplish with less time, and hours in the office are taking over hours spent relaxing. The overarching feeling of stress is reaffirmed by statistics from The American Institute of Stress, which state that 77 percent of people regularly experience physical symptoms of stress. And since the Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests that 56 percent of stressed individuals report impact on their workplace performance, many employees are taking note and looking for ways to eliminate stress in the workplace.

Pair that with the notion that today, more than ever, we’re understanding the complexities behind individuals who require respite in a space. ADD, ADHD, and autism disorder are becoming common vernacular in workplace design considerations, and rightfully so. And as suggested by workplace strategy expert and researcher Leigh Stringer, LEED AP, “I suspect, if we could get solid research, it would suggest that neuroatypical is now, actually, the typical. We often think in terms of the autism spectrum, but in reality, there are so many other considerations that we simply are missing with today’s designs. I’ve met vegans who are offended by leather. Introverts who feel that designs don’t include their needs. The notion of respite is reinforced by the fact that what once was our standard, or ‘typical,’ now must be all-inclusive of so many different neurosciences.”

By designing a workplace that provides ample opportunities to eliminate stress through designated respite choices, employers can provide an environment where employees feel like their day-to-day activities are not something that need to be escaped from but instead are a healthy part of their daily life.

Adaptable spaces provide welcome control

Through stimuli management, adaptable spaces can provide designated areas to mitigate stress, optimize productivity, and control noise. Today’s always-on society includes technology that allows us to work anywhere, anytime. But in doing this, we’ve lost our ability to disconnect, unwind, and escape the pressure of always being attentive. Stringer adds that the value in respite is not so much in its ability to provide something less stressful to do—think yoga and meditation—as it is in the ability to physically escape to a technology-free, nonconnected zone of our choosing. “It’s a matter of finding little nooks and crannies to pull away. Choice is important. But when we talk about choice, we often get stuck on designing areas to collaborate, to bump into someone, or to hang out. We often think of a quiet place as a meditation room or a yoga room, but when I need a mental break, I don’t always want to do those things. That’s why designing

quiet spaces that offer choices is imperative.”

Bringing back privacy to the workplace
 

While the trend of open office design has made a dramatic splash, most agree that the need for privacy remains. Sometimes we need a minute to escape and take a personal phone call. Other times we need a quiet space to focus on heads-down work. But often times, the need for privacy comes alongside the need for respite. In these instances, dedicated spaces for meditation, focus, and stimuli-free thinking serve the workplace well.

Stringer shares an example she recently worked on with public university William & Mary. “The university created a space for people on the spectrum. Through the use of high-back, wraparound chairs with embedded sound machines, we created noise-controlled spaces for students to escape from stimuli. But what was most interesting was that we found many students would pull the chairs directly in front of the windows, providing the benefits of biophilia

paired with stimuli management.”

By incorporating intentionality and the power of control into design, we can create mindful respite spaces that make the workplace a stress reliever, not provider.

The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) is a public benefit corporation whose mission is to improve human health and well-being in buildings and communities across the world through its WELL Building Standard (WELL). To learn more about the Community concept in WELL, explore their new WELL v2 platform.

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