Healthy Researchers Healthy Results: Focusing on the People and Places Behind the Science

by Marcus Acheson
Jan. 4, 2021 | Back To Explore

The places we work must be attentive to our physical and mental needs. As designers, engineers, and planners, we’re creating work environments that focus on productivity, but also enhance overall well-being. In our Healthy Researchers, Healthy Results webinar, we took a deep dive into the workspaces of research scientists and lab technicians. Our panel of experts discussed the challenges of a lab environment and how designers can promote health and wellness while decreasing stress for those people behind the science. To watch the full recording of the webinar, click here.

Here are our main takeaways from the panel discussion:

  1. Ninety-four percent of all US workers report feeling stressed at work. While stress in the workplace is ubiquitous, it is extremely important to note that there are particular industries that feel it most based on the type of work being carried out every day – the science and research industry is one of those. In addition to the workload, the hours can be long, leaving laboratory employees on a ticking time clock to burnout. There are different types of stress but the one that’s the real problem is chronic stress. Repeated activation of the human stress response leads to serious long-term health issues, and it’s important that we be mindful of this stress, especially in research and lab environments.
  2. In the lab, we should consider flipping the paradigm, where we first address not the specific processes or the technical requirements of the lab, but rather the design elements that limit or decrease stress. As planners and designers, we need to ask the hard questions, determine the stressors in the lab environment, and prioritize health and wellness in our design solutions. As engineers, we simply need to focus on flow – air flowing in and air flowing out.
  3. The way we design space has a direct impact on physical/mental health and wellness. It’s important to understand our scientists and their human and environmental needs. Research shows creating views to the outside, offering appropriate lighting, increasing natural daylight, and offering comfortable spaces for breaks are proven strategies for decreasing workplace stress. As humans we crave a sense of community and connectivity. At the same time, we need to be able to relax and reset to avoid burnout. Creating comfortable spaces that encourage human interactions, but also allow employees to restore can be extremely beneficial to our mental and physical health.
  4. Our world is constantly changing, and fast. Thus, the roles and needs of our researchers, scientists, and laboratory workers is too. To best future-proof laboratory environments, we need to create flexible and adaptable spaces. We are seeing more remote workers and virtual engagements, an increase in robotics and automation, and constantly shifting priorities. The lab should reflect this and be prepared to accommodate future changes in a more digital world.
  5. At the end of the day, it’s not about architecture or engineering, it’s about the people, the lab workers. Once we put the emphasis on the people, their health and their wellbeing, we will start to see researchers and scientists who are happier and healthier and more productive and successful.  Healthy Researchers = Healthy Results.