Imagine going to work each day in an office space that's constantly changing. We're not simply talking about the nature of your work or the quality of the snacks in the break room. We're talking about the physical environment: the lights, window treatments, air temperature, your desk— heck, even the location of the walls, plumbing, and air ducts. Sounds crazy, right? Well, for a group of folks who work in Mayo Clinic's Medical Records Department in Rochester, this has been reality for the past several months.
According to a story in the journal Nature, these employees are part of the first pilot study to take place inside of Mayo Clinic's Well Living Lab, a research facility co-designed by Mayo Clinic and Delos, a real estate company focused on health and wellness. Together they're studying how indoor working environments affect our bodies, brains, productivity and well-being.
Nature's Emily Anthes writes that the researchers have been routinely "messing with" the Medical Records staff since last May, when their desks were moved to the lab. Changes have included turning the thermostat "way up" and "way down," changing the "color temperature" of the lights, adjusting the tint of the windows, and playing "irritating office sounds" through the speakers in the ceiling. Those sounds, Anthes notes, have included "a ringing phone, the clack of computer keys," and a recording of "a male voice saying 'Medical Records' as if answering the phone," played on a continuous loop. "I've timed it," Randy Mouchka, one of the Mayo employees taking part in the study, tells Anthes of the recording. "It's 55 seconds."
A short distance away, "in a glass-walled control center crammed with computers," a research team led by Alfred Anderson, the lab's director of technology, is watching and tracking how it all affects Mouchka and his colleagues. "We have a panoramic view of everything that's happening," he tells Anthes.
According to the article, that view is provided not only by a live video feed, but also from running data from the "100 or so sensors scattered around the office" that continually monitor "light levels, air temperature, humidity, and atmospheric pressure." That's not all. Mouchka and his colleagues are also "wired up," Anthes writes, with "biometric wristbands that measure their heart-rate variability and the electrical conductance of their skin." This helps the research team get a "crude" measurement of how everything that's going on around them is affecting the employees' stress levels.
And while on the surface this might all seem a little … unorthodox, the Well Living Lab's medical director, Brent Bauer, M.D., tells Anthes it's all being done in the name of helping researchers figure out how to best mitigate the health risks that can sometimes pop up when we spend too much time inside. "We spend 90% of our time indoors," Dr. Bauer says. "If we don't optimize that, we're going to have a hard time optimizing wellness as a whole."
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