Loving Your Job Starts With Environment, Mind, and Body Resonance.
When I joined the EMBR Labs team, I was still a graduate student at MIT. Most people don’t know this, but the MIT campus can often feel austere and overwhelming: the austere building I worked in was five stories high but didn’t have a single kitchen to socially eat lunch in, and nobody knew each other. As a result, I often found it hard to stay grounded and productive in my MIT office, and I found myself working remotely from alternate spaces like cafés, or my living room, which had the extra advantage of having a purring cat in it.
Now that we’ve got a small dedicated full-time team at EMBR Labs, we’re working on shaping our office into a space that makes us productive and happy. In fact, we have a core theory about how to do this:
You can’t lead a productive life if you don’t understand the effects that your environment and your body are having on your mind state.
To this end, we’ve researched the most scientifically effective ways to foster creativity, positivity and productivity. A quick hint: the old favorite startup perk of providing free meals wasn’t one of them. Sorry, Google.
Hack 1: Hot beverages for a warm social environment
Caffeine isn’t the only reason to drink hot beverages at work. It’s been shown that physical warmth and social warmth are highly interrelated in our brains.
In particular, holding a warm beverage tends to make us more trusting and optimistic towards others. At the EMBR Labs office, we promote this warm team dynamic with a strong culture of tea, especially since we got back from our manufacturing trip in Taiwan.
Hack 2: Open windows to prevent thermal boredom
Many office buildings have a central heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that’s designed to keep the workspace at a “perfect” temperature. We all know how often office thermostats can fail us, but what many companies don’t realize is that striving for a perfect temperature is the wrong approach to begin with.
Here are our scientific collaborators at UC Berkeley in an academic paper on the topic:
What would life be like if we ate the same foods at every meal, never experienced weather or changing light levels, listened to a constant monotone sound and had no music or the sounds of birds, and had no art in our lives to delight our visual senses? There is probably unanimity on this point — it would be dreadful.
Okay, so far, so good. But here’s the interesting bit:
But that is analogous to what is experienced in thermal environments designed for static, uniform, neutral conditions. This has been called thermal monotony, or thermal boredom.
Our friends at UC Berkeley and others have shown that building occupants are more comfortable and delighted when the surrounding environment is dynamic. Local temperature control (something we’re very excited about at EMBR Labs) and natural ventilation (like a breeze from an open window) can go a long way towards making people feel engaged and delighted in their environment.
At EMBR Labs, we don’t always agree about the thermostat, but we make a point of leaving windows open to encourage natural air circulation. This way, we’re turning thermal boredom into thermal delight.
Hack 3: Seek out friendly officemates
Since we’re a minuscule team, we’ve located our office inside a lovely coworking space. What that means is that our workspace also includes a marketing consultant, a nonprofit community manager, a collective of architects and urban planners, a digital illustrator, and more. We love the diversity of experiences and backgrounds of our officemates, but what’s even more important is that their collective mood is positive and they are spontaneously friendly towards each other.
There’s actually a science to this: data scientists at Facebook conducted a (controversial) experiment in which they quantitatively proved that the moods of networks of people can be highly contagious:
For people who had positive content reduced in their News Feed, a larger percentage of words in people’s status updates were negative and a smaller percentage were positive. When negativity was reduced, the opposite pattern occurred.
The Facebook team went on to conclude that:
The emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks.
This confirms a point that is probably intuitive to many of us; namely, that surrounding ourselves with positive people makes us more upbeat. In the sometimes stressful environment of a tech startup, we’ve found that it makes all the difference in the world to cultivate a positive vibe at the office.
Hack 4: Micro-Workouts Keep You Alert
When I was conducting my Ph.D. studies at MIT, I would often spend the whole day at my desk. After several hours of sitting, I would feel intellectually deadened and drowsy. Eventually, I discovered that mid-day exercise after lunch (yoga, a quick run, whatever) kept me active and awake in a way that caffeine simply couldn’t. It turns out there is a whole field of occupational science that is demonstrating how short workouts in the middle of the workday can have significant benefits for improving fatigue and increasing productivity.
In the EMBR Labs office, we’ve installed gymnastics rings that we use for micro-workouts. I hang from the rings for a 30–60 seconds when my computer is frozen, or when I feel myself getting overwhelmed by work stress. I do a series of pull-ups if I notice I’m getting drowsy. My teammate Sam will even flip upside-down or do a muscle up.
Honestly, the gymnastics rings have been great. They’re a big part of how our team maintains its Environment, Mind and Body Resonance.
In summary, our team has been finding it’s much easier to stay productive, happy and working hard with a few simple tweaks to our office environment. Try and find what works for you — it doesn’t have to specifically be a strong tea culture, natural air circulation and gymnastic rings — what do you do to keep your environment, mind, and body in tune while you’re at work?