January 29, 2014
By Lisa Adams

 The definition of work environments has changed drastically over the last decade.  What used to be “Corporate Interiors” is now “Workplace”—defined by observations on how manipulation of space can change (daresay improve) human behavior.  But the aspects of Workplace apply to all work places (not just offices) including hospitals, universities, anywhere that work happens.  Caregivers have as much to benefit from effective work practices as employees in the corporate world. 

“Collaboration” has infused every topic on Workplace.  Designers are now are astutely aware of modern challenges in planning:  doing more with less everything (budget, schedule, space); placating different cultural and generational opinions on what space should provide; the exponentially accelerating pace of work. In all of these measures for improvement, how do we preserve and maintain our most critical asset—wellbeing of people?   

Beyond satisfying the program checklist, as designers we can create spaces that have an impact on the quality of life of our caregivers as much as patients.  Studies continue to reinforce the importance of healthy social  relationships. Numerous medical journals have documented how social relationships, including our work relationships, have a direct impact on our physical and emotional well-being.  They’ve also documented how social isolation has a degenerative effect.  Fortune 100 companies continue to invest more real estate towards social gathering type spaces over partitioned individual centric work spaces.  These social areas promote the exchange of intellectual capital and relationship building; thus building stronger, more effective team structures and, inherently, happier people.

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Something as simple as organizing caregiver work areas into a gathering space can foster a more social, team based structure. Work environments, like nurse stations, can be designed to balance team interaction and areas of respite for retreat, creating a good model for content and effective staff.  Trading the conventional bullpen style nurse station for a standing height team pod, promotes more accessible team interaction.  Quiet retreat areas serve double duty as much needed quiet space that can also be used for patient consult or small meeting space.c

This model does not necessarily require more space, just a more supportive model of space utilization.  Employees who feel engaged are more likely to feel more confident in their abilities and appreciated for their work efforts.  As designers, our approach to planning and design has direct and credible impact on improving people’s happiness and consequentially the success of our client’s organization.