Cognitive Ergonomics

The phrase, “Cognitive Ergonomics” may sound like a contradiction. Since the 1970s, we’ve come to associate ergonomics with its purpose in workplace design for the optimal function of the human body. In American office space of today, creativity-driven design means cognitive ergonomics which not only complements the body’s needs for comfort and productivity, but which now encourages critical and creative thinking workplace dynamics to also complement the mind.

In this globally digital age, a shift is occurring in which the value of knowledge is a main socio-economic driver, as opposed to the value of things produced, as has been the case since the industrial revolution.

The “Knowledge Revolution,” means designing for the way the mind works to facilitate the functions of creativity, collaboration and organization. Therefore, to enhance the value and growth of cognitive ability, creativity and knowledge, design will include an offering of flexibility for collaboration or individual focus—not just one or the other.

Innovation has been changing how business is created, how it evolves, how it grows, or conversely, how it withers. Organizations understand the perspective shift required by their very structure, their management focus, their growth strategies and ultimate success to begin and end with creative innovation. Can abstractions such as knowledge and creativity be concrete business drivers?

What has proved effective is, quite literally, bringing managers and employees out from behind their desks, to interact and learn how creative work is best facilitated.

If creative innovation instead of, say, widgets is the economic driver of the digital age, how do leaders capitalize on the strengths of varying talents within their team? Much research has gone into the physical expression of cognitive ergonomics; in other words, a design revolution for the digital, innovative and creative office team.

Interestingly, meaningful research and significant investment has gone into office space design based on cognitive ergonomics toward creating work environments for the benefit of employees. Those environments in which the design and furniture match the way employees categorize and process information are most successful for cognitive ability. But how is this done for all employees when, as we’ve stated, there are varying talents among them?

The answer is a fluidity and flexibility in design that allows creative work by limiting distractions, but that also supports teams’ collaboration. The conclusion: Simple and open work spaces, with the ability to customize those functional elements that mirror the way an individual organizes tasks and information in his or her brain.

Should files be located in a filing room, requiring employees to leave their space? Should leaders be separated with walls and doors? Should an office remain a space for a desk, a chair, a visitor’s chair and credenza? Studies have shown that this outdated design supports only a very structured, very rigid, “heads down” work style. Furniture should be flexible enough to support the varying work styles and needs of diverse teams. Research now focuses on how employees process and produce information, and how their environment—and how they can interact with it—can provide a productive setting. Research also shows an increased need for effective collaboration options for a spectrum of employees. Should everyone move to a conference room for collaboration? For the sharing of materials, shall employees crowd together at one’s desk?

Effective collaboration means managers much acknowledge and foster not only the diversity that exists in creativity and knowledge among employees, but also toward a variety of ways in which to collaborate. The best teams will be those that are physically designed to encourage and channel employees’ cognitive strengths toward daily productivity, by finding balances between individual needs for focus time and optimizing collaboration time.

Progressive leaders are learning to empower thinkers and foster knowledge, creativity and innovation through investment in cognitive ergonomics.