Comfort isn’t trivial

Going to your happy place is one of today’s catch phrases. And even if you aren’t in it, the thought of it puts a smile on your face. Perhaps your shoulders drop, your heart rate slows, stress and fears subside. In your happy place, your senses are in harmony with your environment. What you hear, smell, taste, see and feel brings satisfaction. Temperature and lighting are to your liking. You feel safe and relaxed.

Indoor happy places occur where people experience both physiological and psychological comfort. Homes, spas, stores, restaurants, hotels, even offices may have the qualities that make us comfortable and satisfied.

But few research studies have been conducted in realistic settings to understand the relationships between combinations of environmental conditions and comfort. Science can advance the knowledge about connections between comfort and productivity and performance, comfort and resiliency, comfort and sleep, comfort and health. The Well Living Lab is particularly well suited to conducting long-term experiments that mimic and control elements of living and working conditions where studies can occur for weeks and months.

In the lab’s first research study published in Building and Environment, (December 28 2017), it found that employee comfort and satisfaction in an open office environment affected people not only while at work but also when they were not at work. Their happiness, health behaviors and sleep were positively affected when they had been comfortable at work and negatively affected when they had been uncomfortable. Their alertness and energy levels while they were off work also varied depending upon the environmental conditions they experienced during the workday.

The conditions in the workplace that were altered in various combinations were acoustics, lighting and temperature. Thermal conditions were most noticeable, with being cold causing the most discomfort, followed by being in noisy conditions that caused distractions. Not being able to look out windows to see daylight and view negatively affected employees’ moods.

The lab studied six combinations of conditions that were in place for a week at a time and repeated at least twice. For instance, in one week, participants could control shades on the windows, had no simulated sounds played over the speaker system in the ceiling and experienced a consistent 71 degrees F. During another, they had no access to outside views because shades completely covered the windows, the temperature was 67 degrees F. and a low level of white noise was played. In another, the speakers played sounds of people speaking, employees could look out windows and the temperature was 75 degrees F.

The study indicated the employees experiencing the uncomfortable conditions were less happy, less energetic, more distracted and day-to-day life required more energy. Findings such as these from the Well Living Lab and can provide the basis for improving comfort, health and well-being in indoor environments where people live, work and play.