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What are the Holistic Methods to Design a Psychologically Safe Workplace?

Often workplace experience is associated with an “aesthetic” space, one with bold graphics, groovy colors, and fancy furniture. Is workplace experience limited to offering employees just an aesthetically beautiful workplace? Imagine working in a space that looks beautiful, but the lighting is bad, ventilation makes you feel suffocated, the desk height is adding to your discomfort, and your desk is the only space you have at your disposal. Isn’t that daunting? What effect will it have on workforce psychology? On top of this, imagine being made to sit between your managers, peeping into your computer screens all the time, and you can’t figure out which way to go to catch some fresh air. There is no way an employee will feel psychologically safe in such an environment.

What will make you feel more fulfilled and safe? a space that looks soothing or a space that makes you feel soothing? It is all about the workplace environment that you build for your employees that is going to matter. Be it hybrid or virtual, your workplace design and environment is the new value proposition that the workforce today is looking for. Especially in this post-pandemic age, where employees have spent a brief period working from the comfort of their homes, do you think only the beauty of your commercial real-estate is enough to instil confidence and motivation in your workforce

It is time for brands to think of workplaces as “workspaces”, and to think of a work lifestyle for the workforce. It is time to carve out spaces that make one feel cared for, heard, and psychologically safe.

But what is psychological safety in the workplace? Let’s understand this thoroughly.

Psychological Safety at Work

Psychological safety in the workplace refers to the physical well-being, support, and personal space that the work environment can offer. It is a shared belief between leaders and the workforce to respect each other’s existence, opinions, and privacy while being a part of the same brand mission.

It is basically to do with establishing a climate that allows people to feel comfortable, feel emotionally as well as physically safe, and acknowledged. It is also the ability of the space to provide easy access and navigation, thus making the experiential value humane.

Why is it Important? How is it related to DEI?

The prime function of any shelter is to make the inhabitants feel safe and secure. Employees spend a major part of their life at work. Then, isn’t it the major function of a workplace to make employees feel secure and to induce the right state of mind?

And, yes psychological safety at work is related to DEI. While the major focus of any DEI initiative is to make everyone included, this is only possible when every employee feels safe and secure to express, voice out opinions, and bring their true self to work. Thus it is the workplace psychological safety that drives diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Designing Psychologically Safe Workplaces

Psychologically-safe-workplace-design-zyeta
Image courtesy – Udaan

Research by Gallup suggests that only 3 in 10 employees feel being included at work. With this ratio, can we say that our workforce today feels safe at work? No! Thus, what we need is a strategy that includes technical design elements and holistic methods to make the work environment and culture safe and healthy for all.

Let’s first look at the design techniques:

Design for Visual Safety

  • Proactive place making- Orienting the workstations towards the entrances, placing ingress-egress points and signage at a clear height and in a legible manner. Placing workstation to harness views.
  • Breaking the scrutiny culture- Positioning teams in a way that employees have access to their private space.

Design for Mental Safety

  • Giving employees control of the environment – Inducing mobility by allowing employees to choose their task-based spots, height-adjustable ergonomic furniture, and temperature control access to employees.
  • Optimum acoustic and sound insulation to help employees to communicate and collaborate better.
  • Making workstations more collaborative- Including agile spaces, the hierarchy of collaborative spaces, carving out neighbourhood areas, and buffer spaces.

Design for Experiential Safety

  • Making work environment comfortable- Provisions for proper ventilation and cooling. Abiding by WELL standards to provide the workforce with pure air and access to a healthy environment.
  • Inducing nature-infused elements- Inclusion of biophilia, fresh environmentally inspired graphics.

Cognitive Design Techniques for Psychological Safety

Apart from the above general design guide for psychological safety, here are two additional design concepts that can serve the purpose.

Let’s have a quick glance at these:

Refuge

Refuge spaces include zones that are distinct and private but need not be enclosed. These spaces are metaphoric for relaxing under shade or sitting in a cosy nook at home. Now, how do we translate these feelings through workplace design? Here’s the solution:

  1. Quiet zones or libraries within the office premises.
  2. Sound insulated pods and capsules for a time-out.
  3. Lactation rooms and prayer rooms to take care of employee’s lifestyle.

Prospect

Prospect is a design technique more similar to the points we discussed in design for visual safety. This deals with the physical arrangements like:

  • Workstation partitions of about 42 inches high to facilitate a sense of privacy and also maintain visual access.
  • Planning workstations to have the shortest travel distance to various amenities across the floor plate.
  • Workstation designs to shield computer monitors away from circulation zones.

Now let us look at the holistic techniques:

Inclusion safety: Create a culture where the employee’s background is taken into consideration while framing any policies.

Learner safety: Normalize vulnerabilities; encourage an environment of peer-to-peer learning and skillset development. Encourage the quest to express opinions, ask questions, and experiment.

Contributor safety: Foster a workforce community that believes in the brand’s missions and is confident enough to add value to the brand. Give employees the power to make decisions mindfully.

Challenger safety: Help employees navigate through the above three stages to reach a point to take up challenges for the brand while feeling safe to take the lead.

In a Nutshell

Maximizing retention, minimizing turnover.

If brands make a move to understand and care for such deep aspects of an employer’s life, employees can surely retain, train, and grow a resilient workforce community.

As both an Architect and Architectural Journalist, he thrives on building unique content, with words and thoughts--as his brick and mortar. A natural-born explorer, he puts no limits on things he's passionate about diving into, be it cuisines, cultures or books. An avid fiction reader and a chronic over-thinker, he still finds enough time to be happy-go-lucky and easy to approach.


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