Offices Need To Learn How To Get You in the Mood

By Franco Faraudo

We all know the feeling of walking into a place and just feeling like you are ready to get some work done. It might be in a quiet library, or at a window with a view. For me, it is in the aisle seat on an airplane. That feeling of motivation is powerful, but it doesn’t come easily. For a place to affect our mood, it needs to make us feel comfortable, energized, and even inspired. This is what good workplaces should aspire to. The office is no longer a place where people can go to work, it has to be a place where people go because they know it will put them in the mood to work. 

It might seem rather new age-y to think that we have to be in the right mood to work (our grandparents didn’t need to be in the mood to work in fields and factories) but there is evidence to back up the idea. Procrastination is one of the biggest drags on productivity and new studies are showing that, rather than being a symptom of laziness or stupidity, it is caused by poor mood regulation. People that procrastinate are not able to put themselves in a productive mood as easily as those who don’t. As bad as procrastination can be to an organization (by some estimates people spend around twenty five percent of their work time procrastinating) it is even more harmful for what it does to us. One study even said that “over time, chronic procrastination has not only productivity costs, but measurably destructive effects on our mental and physical health, including chronic stress, general psychological distress and low life satisfaction, symptoms of depression and anxiety, poor health behaviors, chronic illness, and even hypertension.”

I am not saying that a workplace can keep people from procrastinating, but it can certainly help get them out of their normal rhythms and into a more productive mood. Some of the most powerful triggers for a productive mood might be vibrations (here I go sounding all new age again). We are learning how important sounds can be to our ability to focus. Some sounds can help reduce activity in the brain’s auditory cortex, the part of the brain that processes auditory input. This can free up space to think about other things. Other sounds, our names for example, have been shown to trigger urges in the brain to stop what we are doing and pay attention to them.

Scientists have found that certain tones have the ability to mimic some of these more pleasing sounds. They call these special tones Brown noise and, unlike their cousin Gray, are not named after a color but the random way that pollen floats in water as discovered by Scottish botanist Robert Brown. Randomness seems to be a key component to emotionally appealing noises and is likely why birdsongs and applause are so high on the list. Airplane engines also create a Brown noise, which might explain my increased focus in a cramped airplane seat with my laptop precariously perched on a small plastic tray table.

Music can also have an emotional effect on people but, as anyone who has tried to put a playlist for a party knows, everyone has their own opinions on musical styles. Choosing music that everyone likes to listen to while working is nearly impossible which actually creates an opportunity for smart offices. Technology promises the ability to customize an experience based on the preferences of each individual occupant and what better way to customize an office than giving people the ability to play their own music if they please?

If you talk to someone under the age of 30 it is highly likely that at some point they will tell you that something is “a vibe.” Younger generations seem to understand more than ever that all of the factors of an experience add up to something greater than their individual parts. Trying to understand what makes a “vibe” is hard, if not impossible, but luckily humans are really good at feeling vibes when we are in them. Offices can be beautiful, well-adorned, and comfortable but the most important aspects of an office are not what it has inside of it, but what feelings it stirs up inside of you.

Overheard

Mapped

If you ever wonder where borders for musical tastes lie then this website that shows the top songs from every region of the world is a great reference. 

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