Big business appears concerned; over profit margins, productivity, reluctance to return to office buildings, and perceived loss of control concerning human capital.
And rightly so… Amidst all the upheaval, loss and trauma, Covid19 also imparted the precious gift reminding us that employees are first and foremost, human. We have differing needs, work styles, and preferences. The way we work, is not and never has been, a one size fits all.
Employees with different sensory profiles respond differently to the environment, and therefore have different productivity levels within the same work space. The same environment is not necessarily conducive to productive employees across the spectrum. What I find regulating, may be overloading to my colleague. Isn’t it time we determine what is going on, for the sake of health and wellness of course, but also as a simple yet effective business strategy.
When assessing sensory profiles, a total score is generated, as well as individual systems scores, providing insight into specific sensory needs. One of these system scores involves movement. How we move, how often we need to move, the type of movement we find energizing, and the type of movement we find calming.
Movement consists of two sensory systems – vestibular and proprioception. The vestibular organ in the inner ear picks up any change in head movement (linear, diagonal, side to side, tilt, rotation). Whenever there is a shift in the hair cells of this organ, sensory messages are sent through to the reticular activating system (RAS) – which should be named: “productivity booster”. And this is the secret, the RAS controls our wake and sleeping patterns, our levels of arousal or alertness. It plays a central role in states of consciousness and focus. The RAS also modulates the activity of virtually every other system in the brain. (Shaikh, 2014). Now isn’t this is a little gem you need to learn to manipulate, and empower your staff to manage effectively, if you are an innovative business owner?
When looking at movement scores on the sensory profile questionnaire, we are provided with valuable insight. If you are a movement seeker, with high neurological thresholds, you will need flexible seating options throughout your work day to stay alert and productive. Your 3pm meeting may need to be conducted from a balance board, ball chair, or while pacing up and down using a cordless headset. Your “productivity booster” will benefit greatly from a standing desk, swings in the board room, high desks in the cafeteria, trampoline corners, fireman poles, and vertical work spaces.
If you have a passive response to your high movement score, you have poor registration and won’t realize that you need to move to activate your productivity levels. This gets tricky, as these employees will benefit from futuristic “shake, rattle and roll” office chairs literally upending them every hour or so, to remind their dormant nervous system that movement breaks are crucial to stay alert and functional. These individuals will need campaign managers, or ambassadors, making use of flexible seating options throughout the office. They will therefor benefit from being grouped with sensory seekers, touching on “who will return to the office and on which days” debate.
The movement sensitives with low thresholds, are usually sensitive to the vestibular aspect of movement, but still in need of regulating proprioception. Proprioception does not involve change in head movement, but involves movement of the muscle, skin and tendons, against gravity and resistance. Proprioception is known as the universal regulator, and a crucial part of scientific sensory self-care. Every time we move against resistance, calming sensory messages are sent through to the parasympathetic nervous system to reduce anxiety and calm the fight/flight response. The saying: “you are only one workout away from a good mood” can be taken quite literally from a neuroscientific perspective.
Due to sensory sensitive profiles overprocessing the environment, movement breaks are usually frequent. These are your decluttering, dish-washing, packing away and organizing individuals, which luckily provides ample movement opportunity. Calming/inhibiting movement opportunities will lower their arousal curve and prevent overload and therefor poor productivity levels. These individuals will benefit greatly from gentle rocking chairs, Fat Saks, sleeping pods, vibrating seating options, rhythmical and repetitive motor movements (again: walking meetings) and time out spaces.
We all need movement, every single day, more frequently than we realize. All sensory profiles will benefit from replacing their morning commute with an exercise routine – the high movement thresholds simply to wake up, and the low threshold scores, simply to manage stress and make it through an overloaded day.
Sensitive profiles with other low system scores may not benefit from attending fitness centers, while seeking profiles will enjoy and seek out high intensity, sensory rich training options (kick boxing classes, group workouts, etc).
If you are genuinely concerned, not only about the future of work and how to navigate this tricky path, but also about the wellbeing and sanity of employees, simply taking a closer and more sensory scientific look at movement, will be the smartest thing you do all day, apart from moving.
Shaikh, A.G. Walter, B.L. 2014 Encyclopedia of the Neurological Sciences (Second Edition).