Stop what you’re doing right now and take a look at your desk. What can you see?
Are you in a cubicle devoid of personal effects, or do you have a massive desk and a window overlooking rolling fields with more family photos, papers and inspiring quotes found on your everyday (or perhaps overseas!) travels that you can shake a stick at? Or does it fall somewhere in between like mine? My desk overlooks Maidenhead railway station, which isn’t too inspiring, although my four year old son would consider it heaven. I can bring in as many photos from home as I choose, and usually have a tall glass of water on hand – just to keep up the health kick – as well as a coffee cup, which immediately cancels out the health benefits of the water.
But why do I ask? Well, Ambius (one of the Rentokil Initial divisions) offers internal and external landscaping and scenting and they have funded scientific research which confirms what we instinctively already knew… When you are allowed to personalise your working space (using plants or images for example, hence linking back to Ambius), you are happier at work and therefore more productive. I was lucky enough to be at some of the kick-off meetings when PRISM first started working for R&D at Felcourt when I first joined the company. I interviewed Craig Knight, the lead researcher for the PhD project, to find out a bit more.
DJ: So Craig, it’s been a while since we last talked, what have you been up to recently?
CK: Well, Craig from PRISM (or “prison” as a lot of people often mishear) is soon to be no more. We will soon be relaunching the company as Identity Realisation (or IDR for short). We have got loads of projects on the go. For example, a major car manufacturer wants to investigate how they can make their connecting portacabins each have their own colleague inspired colour and style whilst retaining some kind of corporate stamp.
DJ: But how did you get into this area of research and get funding from RI, what’s your background?
CK: I previously worked in Office Design for several companies, working my way up as I went. Mike Lothian approved a CASE award (industry sponsorship for a PhD) and we kind of grew from there as the working group PRISM (now IDR). I took this interest into academia at the University of Exeter.
DJ: Can you see every office being “IDR’d” in the future then?
CK: Well people already personalise their space at home when they own it. When you rent a property you are limited to what you can do, similarly in some office environments. Our research has linked office design to productivity and employee morale. Similar studies using artwork with older adults in care have shown a causal link between personalized space and well-being.
DJ: Oh yes, I remember you mentioning that. Tell me more…
CK: If you think of the artwork that typically hangs in an old people’s home it tends to be fairly uninspiring stuff. Yet there is research that suggests that as older people’s eyesight gets worse they enjoy more vivid paintings or an image such as those that Ambius provide as part of their Art offering (See an example below).
DJ: That makes perfect sense, maybe I can give you the details of the nursing home my Granny is at! Where are you based now, still at the University of Exeter?
CK: Yes, I’m an Honorary Research Fellow now and trying to bridge the gap between commerce and academia, still occasionally working with Alex (Professor Alex Haslam). I’m happy working on fully blown international projects and scaled down local consultancy type projects. IDR can now offer quantitative scales which gauge people’s perception about how empowered they feel in their own office space. Employee engagement is critical in terms of productivity, identity and general well-being.
DJ: What one main thing do you feel you have learnt either professionally or personally then following your significant PhD research?
CK: (Chuckles.) Well professionally, I need to reign back from professing expertise. Offering improvement is far better than expertise. And personally that there is always so much more to learn and understand.
DJ: Just one last nosey question from me, how long was your PhD viva? I have yet to find someone’s that lasted longer than mine (mine was four hours).
CK: Two and half hours, so not too long. The PhD also led to a few papers published in well regarded journals (including Scientific American, Ageing & Society and the Journal of Experimental Psychology) so all that hard work seems worthwhile .
DJ: Well, thanks so much for your time Craig; I know you’re a very busy man giving lectures on this massive and extremely fascinating subject. I think we have barely skimmed the surface, so if anyone wants to hear more from Craig ask him some questions here on the blog and we’ll get the answers for you. We can also do a follow up interview if we have enough interest. Or if you want, tweet or FB us some photos of your office space!