Vision – Five Senses and the Work Environment

In our last two articles, we discussed kinesthesis and the corresponding desirable environmental elements in work spaces. We continue with our discussion on human body systems and work environment today with a focus on vision.

Visual strain is commonplace for anyone working with computers. It is one of the negative consequences that comes with excessive computer screen viewing. This strain lessens the eyes’ ability to see elements well, and causes eye fatigue, double vision, and overall tiredness.

Additionally, it creates mental strain which can decrease concentration levels considerably1Kumashiro, Mikami, & Hasegawa. Effects of visual and mental strain on VDT performance. Sangyo Igaku. Vol. 26 (1984) Issue 2, pp.105-111 and eventually leads to a loss of productivity. When we see, we not only see our immediate environment, we also perceive and cognize it in our brains2Demick, Ishii, & Inoue. Body and Self Experience: Japan versus USA, 1997. This explains why both our eyes and our minds suffer the effects of strain. It also implies our mindset and habit in seeing the environment influences the degree and nature of any strain.

In this article, we are going to examine what we see, as well as how we see, in the work environment to better understand and address the issue of visual strain and comfort. This is in line with the concept of our body and mind being part of the space which influences the effects of the environment on us.

What We See

With so much data detailing the adverse effects of computer usage on the eyes and brain, we tend to not realize that there is also a flip side. What we view on our screens can also improve our physical and mental well-being. Below is a snapshot of what I (Yoko) am seeing now as I write this section:

On my monitor, I have a beautiful and calming blue ocean screen background. I look, consciously or unconsciously, at other things that are in my atmospheric view – the landscape of my backyard with its crabapple tree, which I regularly turn my head to glance at. I also periodically look at the bookshelf next to my desk, with its many books and folders.

Viewing or exposure to nature can decrease the stress on our bodies. It has been proven to lower heart rate, blood pressure, and improve comfort levels and mood3Vincent E, Battisto D, Grimes L. The effects of presence and influence in nature images in a simulated hospital patient room. HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal. 2010;3(3):56-69. As a result, exposure to nature in workplaces reduce levels of stress, decreases subjective health complaints, leads to fewer sick days, and enhances feelings of being supported by the organization4Bjornstad S, Patil GG, Raanaas RK. Nature contact and organizational support during office working hours: Benefits relating to stress reduction, subjective health complaints, and sick leave. Work. 2015;53(1):9-20.

The easiest way to have a view of nature is to place your desk near a window. I am blessed to be able to fully enjoy my backyard view while I am working at home. But if that is not available for you, which is often the case especially in the city or in a large office, there are many options that will provide these benefits.

First is to use nature images as background displays on your screen, or a piece of art on your wall. Yvonne deliberately chooses calendars with beach scenes or other natural scenes that are visually calming. These types of images will help regulate your mood throughout the workday5Kweon B-S, Ulrich RS, Walker VD, Tassinary LG. Anger and stress: The role of landscape posters in an office setting. Environment and Behavior. 2008;40(3):355-381. They are like mental palette cleansers transporting us, even for a moment, to a favored and beautiful space.

Second, indoor plants have been proven to have positive influence on productivity, attitudes, and perceptions at work6Larsen L, Adams J, Deal B, Kweon BS, Tyler E. Plants in the workplace: The effects of plant density on productivity, attitudes, and perceptions. Environment and behavior. 1998;30(3):261-281 in addition to cleansing the air and producing oxygen. We suggest looking into which types of plants (size, color, water, temperature and sunlight needs, soil, etc.) will best suit you and match your work environment for maximum benefits.

Third, representation of natural elements is also beneficial. Biophilic design is the deliberate attempt to translate the understanding of the inherent human affinity with natural systems and processes7Kellert, S.R. “Dimensions, Elements, and Attributes of Biophilic Design”in Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science, and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life. Kellert, S.R., Heerwagen, J., Mador, M., Eds.; Wiley: Hoboken, NJ, USA, 2008. Biophilic elements such as wooden floors or patterns of leaves on wall paper are part of this concept. In addition to incorporating actual nature such as trees, water, and light, into the design, it also uses “biomimicry,” designs derived from nature, such as natural patterns, forms, and textures, as principal design elements. This concept is created “to elicit a positive, valued experience of nature in the human-built environment8Kellert, Stephen. 2005. Building for Life: designing and understanding the human-nature connection. Washington: Island Press” according to Stephen R. Keller, a pioneer scholar in this field.

What We See on the Screen

What we see on the screen is also important, especially in the work environment. There are simple display and personalization features that you can use to create comfortable visual settings. Explore your settings and configure elements to better suit your eyes’ needs. Here are some easy fixes:

  1. Adjust screen brightness to fit time of day. i.e., the night light feature for Windows
  2. Use contrasting background colors or switch between light and dark app modes
  3. Use basic font styles with proper magnification
  4. Limit to maximum 5- 10 windows/tabs open at one time
  5. Cluster icons into categories on desktop for easier viewing and access
  6. Limit notifications pop-ups and/or turn them off during concentrated work times

There are also glare filters, special computer glasses (yes, this is a thing), and controlling the light sources in the surrounding area. These are more ways to protect our eyes and vision, and minimize the harmful effects that are part of this modern technology age we live in.

Vision encompasses what we see, how we see it and what we choose not to see.

Y. Kawai & Y. Burton

What Your Eyes Avoid    

Things you do not want to look at also contribute to the state of your well-being at work. My (Yoko) eyes seem to naturally avoid the messy shelf next to my desk. A cluttered desk or workspace can negatively impact our sense of calm, focus and clarity. Things being in place and organized positively affects mood9Dion, Sabri, & Guillard. Home sweet messy home: Managing symbolic pollution. Journal of Consumer Research, 41 (2014). pp.565-589.

When we share a workspace, either with colleagues or family members, proper interpersonal distancealso matters. Your body and mind, including your visual sense, considers the four-feet radius around you as your personal space10Hall, Edward. The Hidden Dimension, New York: Doubleday & Co. 1966. Any interference with that causes tension and agitation.

How We See Things

How you see your environment, your habits, and attitudes to the act of seeing, is as important as what you see. First, try to be more conscious of the process of seeing. While the spatial design, including natural elements, will nudge you to look with an eye towards the beauty aspect only, you will be better off being more mindful of its presence in each moment. We will discuss this in more detail in an upcoming article.

Second, try to be as proactive as possible in managing our screen time. Scheduling regular breaks during long work sessions and taking preventive measures to limit eye strain or physical stress are common tools that can provide impactful benefits. To maintain visual efficiency, one study11Matyukhin, et al. Giving Grounds for Physiological-Ergonomic Activities Aimed At Reducing Eye Fatigue Caused by Work. Health Risk Analysis. 2017. Vol.3, pp. 66-75 recommends taking a 30-minutes break for every 2-hour block of computer work and doing various exercises including ‘eye yoga’ to improve circulation in eyeballs and cycling, to improve overall circulation.

We cannot avoid all the negative aspects of screen time. By changing our habits and attitudes with these simple methods, we can decrease harmful effects and create feelings of wellbeing and calm.

Vision encompasses what we see, how we see it and what we choose not to see. All of these contribute to having a broad and better strategy to utilize the work environment for our well -being.

In our next article, we will apply similar principles to what we hear.

(Written by Yoko Kawai and Yvonne Burton)