Why changing with the seasons is key to the all-weather workplace

Building in flexibility within workplace strategy and office design is a way to ensure working environments remain a magnetic destinationLove it or hate it, weather chat is part of Britain’s day to day – yet in the world of work it’s not just casual small talk. In fact, the seasons have a real impact on how we feel and perform. The change in seasonal characteristics influences what employees need from where they work. Looking after employee wellbeing and putting individuals in the best position to be productive at work means different things throughout the year. Building in flexibility within workplace strategy and office design is a way to ensure working environments remain a magnetic destination that support people all year round…but what does this type of flexibility look like?

The sensory experiences that the seasons evoke have been explored by poets, musicians, and artists throughout the ages. This is no surprise when they have very real influences on our daily lives, impact our health, and change our experience in the workplace and its wider surroundings. Many people feel the winter blues in some shape or form; each year around 2 million people experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which can affect the production of important hormones such as melatonin and serotonin, as well as disrupt the body’s internal clock.

Health conditions like seasonal affective disorder make the need to design for flexible sensory experiences in the workplace all the more important. Think about how the workplace can help people maintain their body clock with circadian lighting installed above desks. Throughout the day these special lights change to mirror the shifting warmth of the natural light outside, entraining the body’s rhythms to daylight with positive knock-on effects for mood and sleep health. If circadian lighting isn’t an option in your office, maximising the proximity of desks to windows is an alternative solution helping to create a stable routine for employees as the seasons change.

Air quality is another element that needs extra attention in the winter. Fresh, oxygen-rich air is good for business all year round, but keeping air moving in the winter months can also help minimise the spread of germs and infections, something that is now a staple in our consciousness.


Creating comfort with texture

Texture is used in design to add “visual weight” to a space and provides depth and contrast to interiors – but it also has the power to impact beyond the visual.

It’s natural for us to gravitate towards softer, residential-style furnishings such as sofas and armchairs in the winter, seeking warmth and comfort. Hygge is a Danish word that means a feeling of cosiness and contentment that engenders wellbeing. Adding a dash of hygge to your workplace in the colder months help counteract the winter blues. This can manifest through seating areas where comfort is encouraged, or utilising tea points, eateries to supply hot food and drinks.

Hygge is as much about feeling supported by the people around you as it is the furniture, so employers should keep a close eye on wellbeing in the winter and be ready to tailor strategies to support the specific challenges the colder and darker months bring. This will look different based on the specific needs of businesses and individuals, but continuing to communicate about where support for mental and physical health can be found and providing training to equip managers with the tools and confidence to support their teams is a good place to start. Follow that up with behaviour that supports health and wellbeing, like encouraging home working when employees are under the weather.


Fresh air is good for the soul

In the summer, workplaces that seamlessly connect to the outside can maximise the positive impact of the warmer, brighter weather.  Make outdoor terraces somewhere attractive and functional, and encourage people to get out into the sun on lunch and tea breaks. Keeping cool is equally important, particularly for those with active commutes, so make sure water coolers are accessible throughout the workplace for both employees and visitors, and offer a space to shower and cool down when they arrive at the office.


Work smart – how policies and other workplace initiatives impact seasonal change

It’s not just physical aspects of workplace design that can be flexed with the seasons. Updating office working policies can make a big difference to the employee experience. The commute acts as a barrier to attendance for many people, and the prospect of doing it in the dark or sweltering heat only makes the daily trip to the workplace less attractive. Flexible arrival and departure times remove this problem, making the commute safer and more pleasant, and ensuring that people arrive happier and healthier, whatever the weather.

There are other workplace changes that can make a big difference too, namely the food and drink options available. Being able to make an iced coffee in the summer and a hot chocolate in the winter brings little moments of joy to the everyday experience. If your workplace has an eatery, your menu will likely already evolve with the seasons, but being a bit more scientific with these changes can help put health and wellbeing first – for example, compensate for a lack of sunlight with foods high in Vitamin D and iron.

Leaning on local produce will further embed your seasonal approach to office life and is a small but significant step in sustainable decision-making. This is all part of a wider conversation about the relationship between nutrition and productivity, and the role that an employer has in supporting employees to make healthy choices.


Listen and learn

Crucially, building the all-weather workplace doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. The best strategy is one that listens to employees concerns and acts to address them directly, so give people a chance to speak up – feeling heard in this instance is often as powerful as anything you implement.

There’s no reason that everything should happen at once, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so don’t be afraid to test interventions, gather feedback, then go again. Things won’t fall into place immediately, and employees will react to new things in different ways, so managing any change with transparency and candour is crucial.


Here comes the sun

There is no end in sight for Britain’s weather chat, but a workplace designed to complement the seasons can help minimise the impacts on working life beyond small talk. Understanding how the seasons affect our mood and our health can help make the office a destination that contributes to mental and physical wellbeing, as well as a home for productive, comfortable work.

Exploring how the seasons affect employee behaviour is a further way to evaluate the success or failure of office working policies, before adapting them to reach their potential. More than anything, however, it’s about making the office a place that we’ve created for ourselves and that caters to the unique set of individuals within, whatever the weather.

Image: Peldon Rose