In this article, we want to demonstrate the importance and value of creating an ecosystem that supports workplace well-being by connecting and activating spatial nodes and nudges. This involves designing for in-between spaces using the Japanese concept of Michiyuki, which encompasses both traveling and the path of travel. 

Essential components of the Human-centric work environment

First, let’s begin by reviewing two key ideas of the human-centric work environment we wrote about in previous articles:

  • The understanding that our body and mind are a part of the space we inhabit.
  • Taking a first-person perspective of the environment deepens this understanding and widens the human-space interactivity for well-being.

These two are interconnected (you need to feel you are a part of the space to take the first-person perspective of the space), and work together to create a truly experiential space that supports wellness.

Spatial Nodes and Nudges for Well-being at Work

We have made numerous suggestions on how to create spatial instances (nodes and nudges) that are experiential and contribute to your wellness at work. For example, certain types of chairs not only provide support for your spine, but also promote sitting in the correct way to keep your whole body healthy (See our Kinesthesis article.) A painting of a waterfall improves your well-being because you care to look at it, or its beauty nudges you to look at it. (See our Water article).

In addition, we pointed out the importance of connecting these nodes as a linear experience to create a lightscape or soundscape.  Experiencing such connected nodes is like watching a movie in which, as the character moves, the space he or she sees transforms accordingly to their perspective.

An ecosystem of spatial nodes and nudges is necessary within a workplace.

Ecosystem of Spatial Nodes and Nudges within a Workplace

Now I (Yoko) would like to expand on the idea of lightscapes and soundscapes by making the argument that the ecosystem of these nodes and nudges is vital for a workspace to truly support the well-being of people and businesses. 

By ecosystem, I mean a network of nodes and nudges that are activated by human movements and connected by meaningful in-between spaces, that have their own roles, which together expand or contract in response to personal and business needs. This ecosystem is the opposite of the traditional approach in which the function, size and layout of spaces is rigid, leaving very little room to change or shift boundaries and largely ignoring human movements and the first-person perspective.

This new type of Ecosystem is needed because:

  • Every task requires a different desirable environment (Alignment article), and everyone has different sensitivity to the environment (Mindfulness article). 
  • The Human body needs to move (Kinesthetics article).
  • Using the whole space, instead of a portion targeted or designated for well-being, takes better advantage of the power of that space (Mindfulness article).
  • It makes the space more agile in responding to any business change.

The first step in creating this new type of ecosystem is to employ and distribute the nodes. This is relatively easy if you understand the requirements of each node. However, to connect nodes and activate the ecosystem requires consideration of both human movements and spatial design of in-between spaces. This combination is foreign to most people and therefore presents a challenge.

We need a new type of ecosystem within workplaces, one that expands and contracts in response to personal and business needs for optimized well-being

Y. Kawai & Y. Burton

 In-between Spaces

What does it mean to transition from one place where you perform a task to another place where you do another task? It means that you need to rest and recover from the first task, and prepare yourself for the second. These three vital steps need to happen in this order while your body moves from one place to the other. Yet the direct distances between spatial nodes are often short, sometimes just a door threshold. In order to properly experience these three steps, designing the in-between space to prolong the time experience becomes a key factor in creating the overall ecosystem.

In-between space plays an important role in an ecosystem of nodes and nudges,
An in-between space is to rest, recover, and restore.

Michiyuki: The Japanese Concept of Traveling

The Michiyuki concept in Japan gives us hints on how to prolong the time experience when the physical distance is short.  Michiyuki simultaneously means the act of traveling and the path (linear space) for it. It is rooted in the first-person perspective of the traveler. In traditional Japanese gardens and architecture, you often see the spatial tricks (“spatial nudges” in the Mindfulness article) to slow the traveler down, to prolong and deepen the experience.

The first trick is to design the space so that your body cannot move quickly. Stepping stones or a path intentionally made narrow in Japanese gardens yield this effect. The second and third tricks, placing a blurred boundary to create the effect of mystery, and using the contrast of light and shadow, were explained in the last article. The fourth one is to prolong the physical distance by using many detours and turns, when the direct distance is short.  You see it often in Japanese tea gardens where guests prepare their mind and body for the tea ceremony while doing Michiyuki, traveling through the meandering path.

Michiyuki, a Japanese spatial concept, can be translated in a modern office.

Michiyuki Translated in Our Workspace

These Michiyuki tricks can be translated for the contemporary workspace.  We can slightly bottleneck some portions of a hallway, or use wall colors or floor finishes that require bodily adjustment to slow down. We can place plants and art to catch your attention and offer visions that make you feel better at the same time. A shady spot with plants in a warmly lighted corridor will give you a place to rest and restore.  Design and position a window strategically so your eyes will be drawn to it, which will slow you down. Place pleasant looking furniture in pathways so that you must navigate around it.

What is our Spatial Experience Like without Michiyuki

The “Commuting in Corona Times” map by Kera Till went viral in 2020 when many of us were working at home and confined to small spaces due to the lock-down. In this map, which is modeled after the one for a subway network, various small spatial instances in a home (kitchen, fridge, couch, mailbox, etc.) are shown as “stations” and connected by colored lines.

Commuting in Corona Times by Kera Till

This map’s popularity came from the shared experience of frustration in which your urge to move around is restricted due to smaller spaces and shorter distances between the spatial nodes. Many felt like a frantic mouse trapped in a maze. The connections of spatial nodes, in this case, were considered harmful to people’s well-being. This perception originates partly in misunderstanding the meaning of and underestimating the possibility of in-between spaces. But it is also informed by the reality that the space was originally designed on that misperception which makes it inevitable for the homeowner to feel this way.

There is a bright side in this map, though. It shows people’s instinctive desire and ability to use their whole space, however tiny, to create an ecosystem of spatial nodes and nudges even while working remotely at home.

Michiyuki: The Japanese Concept of Traveling in the Virtual Setting

How do you rest and recover from the first task, and prepare yourself for another when there is no physical space to travel? When working virtually, each task needs to happen in front of a computer.  How then, do you properly experience the three steps when working virtually?

Yvonne’s Snapshot: I organize my desk into 3 sections: Left, Center, and Right. My main computer monitor and keyboard are in the center. On the left, I keep one notebook for business administrative work, my phone, and my coffee cup. On the right, I have my laptop, which is open to my e-mail application, and I also keep a notebook for any client-related note taking.

The three sections on my desk are my ‘spatial nodes’ and I travel between them by swiveling my chair to each section depending on which task I need to perform. By the act of moving my chair slightly, I am also shifting my focus to a new task and changing my visual landscape. I am performing the act of Michiyuki – crossing an imaginary threshold that prepares me for my next task.

Between tasks, I also take standing breaks (Kinesthesis article) to execute the three steps. Sometimes, I take my laptop to another part of my home for a change of environment such as the living room to sit on my couch. Traveling from my main computer station, my focused work area, and switching to the couch, puts me in a more relaxed space and mood. This transition is similar to the example of the Japanese tea garden above. 

There are many ways to do Michiyuki when you are working virtually. You can take ‘game’ breaks such as playing “Wordle” or do a simple stretch. You can do interim small (less intense) activities to clear your head before going on to the next major task.  You can also look at beautiful imagery (Vision article) on or off your monitor, or listen to music (Hearing article).

New Expansive Ecosystem for our Modern World

Working virtually does not erase our bodies and minds. There will always be physical aspects and activities involved whether working in person or virtually. We need not only the spatial nudges and nodes, but also the in-between spaces to remind us of this. It lets our bodies and minds interact with the space we are in, whether it is an office or a remote workspace.

Our society and businesses are changing every day. We need a new type of ecosystem within workplaces, one that expands and contracts in response to personal and business needs for optimized well-being.  This new ecosystem is made up of spatial nodes and nudges, and in-between spaces. The concept of Michiyuki connects them all.

Starting with our next article, we will expand the scale of the human-centric work environment to the level of cities and regions.

(Written by Yoko Kawai and Yvonne Burton)

%d bloggers like this: