There is a growing demand for design guidelines for stress-reducing workspaces. This comes from the creative industry in general and especially, from Schoots Architecten and IJsfontein. These insights should be based on design interventions and evaluations.

There is limited attention to the influence of the environment on the reduction of work-related stress, in the sector of education. This whereas burn-out occurs above average in this sector (24% in education, compared to 17% on average). The nature of the job is the main cause for the experience of high workload for teachers, but the work environment is also an important factor. 

"The goal of this project is to create a work environment that is stress relieving."

Therefore, the target group for this research is higher education professors, as a first step. The goal of this project is to create a work environment that is stress relieving. The first results are an evaluated test environment: the Natural Workspace, and accompanied design guidelines. In future projects, these results can be translated to other work environments.

For the research process we followed the Empathic Research cycle. This contains four phases; Exploration, Translate, Design, and Validate. In the Exploration phase, we conducted research by conducting expert interviews and interviews with teachers who experienced burn-out. We gained in-depth insights into the experiences of the users by using the method contextmapping: a diary with 18 participants and a focus group session. The research led to the following insights: 

  • Teachers skip breaks or take ad hoc breaks; 
  • Teachers suffer from noise pollution in flex offices; 
  • Bringing nature into the building provides an opportunity; and 
  • The Pomodoro time management technique offers a healthy balance between work and recuperation. 

Based on the explorative research, we derived two design themes, Time and Social. With Time supporting on getting a grip on time, and Social supporting on social cohesion with colleagues. Of these two options, Time has been chosen to focus on, because when the feeling occurs of having more ownership on time, negative stress will diminish. To create a healthy work environment, it is necessary to have a healthy balance between work and relaxation. 

At DDW we expose the Natural Workspace. In this work environment, the professor is surrounded by nature and guided through the Pomodoro time management method by nature. The Pomodoro method will support focus and concentration for 25 minutes, after which one will take a break for 5 minutes. Going forward, the design could become adaptive and the work cycle offered by the system could be personalized.

Natural Workspace – Detail Butterfly
"In both cases, the attention of the user will be drawn towards nature, to create a break in a natural and relaxing way."

Two setups were created, Forest and Sea. In the first test setup, the work environment has the shape of a Forest, with elements from nature such as rustling plants, a life stream to a bird’s nest, forest sounds, and a fluttering butterfly. In the second test set-up,  sight and sound of Sea waves are used. The rhythm of the waves follows the breathing rhythm of the user. Biofeedback is given by the movement of the sea. In both cases, the attention of the user will be drawn towards nature, to create a break in a natural and relaxing way. 

The design works because nature creates a relaxing atmosphere, in addition to the teacher experiencing more control over their time schedule, because of the time management method. Because the work environment relieves stress and related complaints and aims to prevent long-term illness failure, the employer also benefits.

With the research as a whole, we try to contribute to a healthier society. We try to get more attention to health in the workplace and support work well-being and happiness by relieving stress.

Within the project, we cooperated with project partners IJsfontein and Schoots architecten as well as with student teams from HAN, CMD, and IPO. The students received the case as a design project. Their research outcomes and design results have led to broader knowledge and inspiration for the general research and design process. 

Natural Workspace – Butterflies

From the collaboration, we learned about all disciplines, and gathered knowledge from different perspectives, which enriched the project.

Our partners IJsfontein and Schoots Architecten have inspired the student groups with their involvement at the beginning of the project, by showing best practices and joining co-creation sessions. In addition, they were there during mid and end presentations providing the students with useful and constructive feedback. 

Because of the restrictions related to Covid, we held some sessions online in the beginning of the project, which we would rather have done physically. In a next experiment (more) physical meetings could be organized at the companies of the partners.

The planter that we show here, accompanied by a movie of the test setups placed in the work environment and models of possible elaborations, exhibits how nature can influence the work rhythm and can take care of a healthy balance between productive work and relaxation. Therefore, this design aims to contribute to greater work pleasure.