How sensory rooms can create more efficient workplaces

Employers want happy, engaged, productive staff but that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The working environment plays a significant role in galvanising their creativity and fostering their focus.

That’s always been the case but only a few organisations (often in creative industries) deliberately created such a workplace. Then came the pandemic…

The pandemic

During the pandemic, most office staff were compelled to work from home. That was not without its difficulties but it did mean that people had more control over their environment.

They could choose whether they worked in silence or played their favourite music.

They could lie on the sofa with their eyes closed while they thought through a thorny problem or boost their energy levels by shooting a few basketball hoops in the yard.

They could choose whether they worked at the kitchen table surrounded by household activity or outside in the garden surrounded by green plants and birdsong.

And, while some people missed the buzz of the office and everyone wanted lockdown to end, many found they were surprisingly productive at home – perhaps because they could tailor their working environment to suit their personal needs.

Living through a global pandemic has not been easy, though, and has arguably amplified existing sources of stress.

A stressed workforce

However well your staff might seem to be doing on the surface, the statistics tell a story of physical and mental health difficulties and multiple sources of chronic stress.

When it comes to stress in Australia:

We’re not a terribly healthy bunch, either. According to the most recent Australian census:

  • 78.6% of Australians had at least one long-term health condition in 2020-21
  • 46.6% of us had at least one chronic condition
  • 1 in 5 of us lives with a mental or behavioural condition.

Stress takes its toll in many ways – absenteeism, irritability, reduced motivation, poor concentration, poor sleep and changed behaviour.

Job performance is bound to suffer – and the working environment itself may stress people further.

Back in the office

While it’s good to have the team back in the office now, it tends to be a one-size-fits-all space when it comes to lighting, heating, colour schemes and music choices. There’s also a multitude of distractions, from background chatter and clicking keyboards to ringing phones, email chimes and the awful, grating noise of the coffee grinder.

Not everyone concentrates well in that cacophony. It’s estimated that 5-16.5% of the general population have symptoms associated with sensory processing challenges. Estimates are higher for people on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), many of whom are in the workforce.

So now you have stressed workers in a working environment that may potentially stress them further. As a caring employer keen to achieve business goals, what can you do about it?

Create a space that encourages the attributes your staff need to succeed

Google’s success depends on innovation and collaboration – and so it has created a working environment that fosters those traits. Most Google offices use a vibrant colour scheme and include play spaces, video games and ‘third spaces’ – informal seating areas where staff can work in comfort, either alone or together.

So, what qualities do your staff need to succeed? It will vary depending on your industry but could include:

  • A calm, capable and friendly manner with clients
  • Excellent organisational skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Creativity
  • Ingenuity.

Unresolved stress will inhibit each of those things. Helping staff to unwind could be one of the best things you do to improve performance.

Relieving stress by soothing the senses

We all experience the world through our senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, taste and proprioception (movement and pressure).

While we all have different thresholds, we can experience sensory overload when there’s more sensory input than we can handle. Sensory overload basically sends you into a fight-or-flight state where your body and brain are gearing up to handle a major threat. We’re all vulnerable to this, especially if we’re more sensitive than usual due to stress or lack of sleep.

A sensory room is a haven for people feeling overwhelmed by too much stimulus. Entering a calming, sensory-soothing space provides room to reset.

What is a calming sensory room?

A calming sensory room is a purposefully designed space that stimulates and engages the visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory (smell), vestibular (balance) and proprioceptive (body awareness) senses to elicit therapeutic outcomes.

First designed in the 1970s, sensory rooms are now used in a wide range of health and social settings, public events and festivals, sports and entertainment venues, nursing homes and workplaces.

It’s a space to retreat from the loud, brash, stressful world we live in, a place where workers can rediscover their equilibrium by connecting with their senses.

Sensory rooms in the workplace

Global life sciences giant, Bayer, recently installed a sensory room to support workplace mental health and wellness for all staff and to be more inclusive of neurodiverse employees and those living with chronic conditions and hidden disabilities.  The goal was to create a sensory space that could help ease the transition back to the office and could relieve workplace stress.

Two serenity rooms have now been created at Bayer’s Indianola campus in Iowa. Staff use these rooms to destress and recharge. As a result, they feel more secure in their workplace.

In any workplace sensory room, you would probably find workers who:

  • Have a lot on their plate just now and feel overwhelmed
  • Have had a stressful day and need to reset
  • Feel anxious, exhausted or depressed
  • Are struggling with the demands of their job
  • Live with health difficulties or neurodiversity-related conditions.

That’s all of us, really, at one time or another.

Installing a sensory room by Creative Sensory Spaces provides your staff with a soothing, calming, emotionally nourishing experience. Refreshed from their time in the room, they’re more able to engage well with the world around them.

Does that make a difference to productivity? In all likelihood, yes.

Many studies demonstrate that happy workers are more productive. The University of Warwick recently found that happier workers are 12% more productive while Forbes reports other results showing a 20% increase in productivity from a happier workforce.

How can Creative Sensory Spaces help?

At Creative Sensory Spaces, we design, create and install amazing sensory rooms with bold yet harmonious, nature-inspired themes that promote mental and emotional refreshment by engaging the senses.

As Australia’s leading experts in sensory rooms, we know how to create a design that suits your budget, refreshes your workforce and improves productivity.