It sounds like a contradiction in terms – a workspace that’s serene and laid back but effective too. But it’s not. And, in fact, it’s what many fit out designers are aiming for these days.

After all, study after study shows that having ‘time out’ can refresh the mind and sharpen focus. And anyway, isn’t it about time bosses nurtured their workforce? We’re not living in Dickens times, after all. Stress is, however, regarded as the epidemic of the 21st century, according to the World Health Organisation.

Those dismissive of the benefits of meditation in the workplace would do well to take a look at an Ohio University pilot programme which gave office workers yoga and meditation for six weeks. A total of 24 individuals went to one-hour weekly yoga and discussion sessions and meditated for 20 minutes a day at their desk. Another 24 employees carried on their regular usual daily work routines (acting as ‘control’ subjects). At the end of the trial stress levels in those who had attended the yoga etc sessions had reduced by 11 per cent. They were also able to fall asleep easier, as well as stay asleep. The study, which was later printed in a well-respected health journal, was based on a theory named mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

Google really began the ‘office fit out design to please the employee’ phase back in the 1990s. Remember their iconic San Francisco headquarters with the huge slide, table tennis games room and rainbow colours everywhere? It was more like a ‘grown-ups ball pit’ than an office.

Working with technology helped though – it was flexible, laptops were small enough to carry around and internet access could be achieved from anywhere in the building. Also, the brilliant minds that worked there weren’t exactly your average employee. They were young (in their twenties and thirties mostly), single and spent much of their social time online too. It was their lifestyle that was the impetus for the US hit comedy show ‘The Big Bang Theory.’


Meditation and ‘grey matter’ in our brains

Apple founder Steve Jobs gave his staff 30 minutes every day in which to meditate. A life-long advocate of the practice himself, he knew it would also have beneficial effects on his workforce. And who would argue with that?! Beneficial effects of meditation according to Harvard researchers, include increasing grey matter in the brain’s hippocampus. And that’s the area where learning, self-awareness and compassion originate. At the same time, it also decreased grey matter in the amygdala region of the brain (where anxiety and stress reside). The researchers based their findings on an eight-week meditation course at Massachusetts General Hospital in 2011.

Meanwhile, it’s not just trendy IT companies that have embraced the fun and functional new workplace with its chill-out zones. Big global brands in finance and retail such as Deutsche Bank and Proctor & Gamble have also jumped on board. And it’s catching. As a result, from funky, flexible furniture and intimate meeting chalets to meditation rooms and sleeping pods, our offices have undergone a radical transformation within the past two decades. And here is some of the best stuff that’s out there right now:


Prioritising chill-out and meditation zones

We’re all aware that meditation is good for us (in terms of reducing stress and helping us stay mentally focused). It makes perfect sense to take ‘time out’ every now and again. So, when our employer insists we do it (or certainly makes the facilities available) we’re rather touched. It shows they care about us and which, in turn, will result in us putting in the effort for them.
In other words, this caring attitude increases employee loyalty and ultimately leads to healthier profits. It also helps us get on better with our fellow employees which, in turn, improves morale.

But it’s not just about our mental health. Meditation is known to improve the immune system and that means fewer colds and days off work.

And that’s something that’s desperately needed here in the UK, especially when you consider a recent study showed 25 per cent of people surveyed threw a sick day in the UK last year simply because they found it “too painful” to go in to work. Carried out by IT company Kantar, who surveyed 1,246 working adults for a week in January this year, the research revealed problems with office culture and non-flexible working practices.

“Employers have a duty of care to their employees to look after their safety and wellbeing, and this includes their physical and mental health,” said Tom Neil, Acas Senior Adviser whose team carried out the survey.


How the ‘experts’ fit-out

relaxing workspace fit out

Meditation pods at Headspace

Headspace is a meditation app which took the tech world by storm when it was introduced back at the start of the last decade. Today just about everyone has heard of the app which set out to introduce meditation to the masses. In other words, it was for complete beginners and the uptake was huge. Meanwhile, it shouldn’t be any surprise to learn that the Headspace LA office embraces the concept of relaxation. Not only do they have a Group Meditation room, but also a Silent Room and Individual Meditation Pods.

Some companies organise full-blown meditation sessions for staff, others just provide the furniture. But both are hugely beneficial for staff. Even just 10 to 20 minutes alone in a relaxing space can be enough to rejuvenate an employee who has just come off a stressful phone call or agitated ‘discussion’ with another member of staff.


Furnishing a meditation space

So, what should a meditation room look, smell and sound like? Well, firstly, if there is a smell, it should be a light one, such as the scent of freshly-cut flowers or a stimulating aromatherapy oil such as clary sage or rosemary (both of which also encourage focus).

In terms of appearance, neutral colours should be used on the walls and on any textiles, such as cushions or blankets. That way there’s nothing to obstruct focus. Any light should come from as natural a source as possible ie daylight or candle light. If using electricity then LED bulbs are better than fluorescent or other types of lighting source).

Noise levels should be as low as possible (and which is why the meditation room should, if possible, be on another floor to the main office). We’ve even heard of some employees hi-jacking the boardroom for meditation sessions when not in use). Certainly, it should sit as far away as possible from the largest source of noise in the building. Employees can also plug into their own chosen source of music or meditation app with percussion music etc.


Get in touch!

Interested in creating a meditation space or similar for employees in your own workspace? Then why not get in touch with the team here at Steampunk? We have decades of experience in fit out projects and a highly-skilled team of craftsmen, joiners and designers. Our recent commissions have been praised for their creativity and attention to detail. If you’d like to chat with us about your project then call 0800 197 2922. Shopfitters Manchester, Leeds & Scotland – SteamPunk Fit Out.