047: Creating Ideal Work Spaces with Leigh Stringer

By August 10, 2016Podcasts


Leigh Stringer says: "This [control of the physical environment] is actually a tool that can increase productivity, not inhibit it... offer more choice, not less."

Architect and author Leigh Stringer shares how to adjust your workspace to enhance your performance.

You’ll learn:
1. The powerful connection between relaxation and creativity
2. What “biophilia” means and how it can improve your performance
3. The difference between good workers and great workers we learned from athletes

About Leigh
Leigh Stringer, LEED AP, is a workplace strategy expert and researcher whose work has been covered by national media, including CNN, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and Good Morning America. She works for EYP, an architecture, engineering and building technology firm. She is the author of the book The Healthy Workplace: How to Improve the Well-Being of Your Employeesand Boost Your Company’s Bottom Line and lives with her husband and two daughters in Washington, DC.

Items Mentioned in the Show

Leigh Stringer Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Leigh, thank you so much for being here on the How to Be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Leigh Stringer
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was really loving perusing your book, and I think we’re going to cover so much good stuff here. Maybe to warm us up a little bit about concepts covered often The Healthy Workplace, which released just a couple weeks ago, could you share maybe an inspiring story or case study or example of an organization that did some things that got folks, the employees, being more healthy and then I guess utopia ensued, or a healthy ROI and a healthy workforce emerged.

Leigh Stringer
Right. No, I’ve got one and two or three or four.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, nice.

Leigh Stringer
What was really exciting about doing this research is that there really are great examples out there. Sometimes it’s such a competitive advantage that these companies have figured this out that they’re hiding it under a bushel because it’s really working, but one that is not hiding it under a bushel that I really grew to love in particular was a company called Next Jump. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, but they’re in New York. They have an office in Boston and a few other places.

About a two hundred person company, so on the smaller side, but they are a company that is … I guess you’d call them a tech company. They offer employee discounts and reward programs for something like ninety thousand companies. What they have done … They’ve seen some ups and downs, some downs after the tech bust, and kind of decided to reinvent themselves several years ago, and did it from the ground up.

I mean, just restarting back up at four employees, and part of what they were realizing was that … Well, a number of things. That they really wanted to create a culture, a very clear culture that was all about people and about sharing knowledge and not about hoarding it. In the past they’d hired a bunch of software engineers that were very talented but were not team players, and they realized that there were some qualities in the people that they were hiring that were perhaps more important or equally as important as the technical skills.

To hear their story is really interesting. Number one, they went from … I’ll discuss a few of the things that they did but just in a couple of months, or a couple of quarters I should say, they went from thirty percent increase in sales annually to a hundred and twenty percent increase in sales and they completely claim that it’s tied to focusing on people and focusing on creating leadership qualities in their staff.

One of the things they do is that whatever they try, they are making sure that leadership tries it first. They’re interested in all kinds of emotional, spiritual, physical, mental health on every front. They’ve brought in some smart people like Jim Loehr who was one of the key leaders of the Human Performance Institute, and he’s somebody who’s really looked at performance and engagement and has helped them develop all these tools to do that.

When you walk through their workplace you can see it. You see the fact that their people are plastered all over the walls. They clearly care about their people. They have a sizable gym. Real estate-wise in Boston and New York they’ve got some not-so-cheap locations where they’ve dedicated a sizable portion of their real estate to working out and a whole bunch of kind of cool, new, not-just-the-normal-treadmill-weights kind of stuff, but some new technology that they are testing out.

Their leadership is jumping in and doing it with them and seeing if it works and they’re looking at measurable results, because they are seeing measurable results. One of the fun things they do is they have what they call talking partners, which is basically … They find people who are very intentionally a different personality than yours. If you’re perhaps more outgoing, they might find someone who’s maybe a little more quiet and reserved.

They use a profiling tool to do this and then they set you up, and every day we touch base with each other. “How’s it going? How you feeling? Do you feel like your projects that you’re working on are going okay? How do you feel physically, emotionally?” Just to touch base. It may be a very quick touch but our conversation, it might be on the phone, it might be in person. It’s not really a mentor. It’s more just somebody looking out for you, you know, the friend at work I guess.

Intentionally, because it’s someone who’s a different personality from yours, they’re often somebody who can help you see a different perspective, which has been really, really successful for leadership as well as just checking in on mental, physical, spiritual health. They do fitness challenges and when I was visiting their New York office, I noticed that they put everybody on a team. Everybody has to work out a certain amount a week, or they suggest that to kind of make sure that physically you’re active and mentally, your brain is whirring.

Part of the physical activity, it can be totally playing ping pong. It’s kind of what they call the gateway drug to getting people exercising. They’re like, “Yeah. A lot of our folks aren’t, especially initially when we were trying this stuff, aren’t necessarily into working out all the time or working out on a regular basis. If they just stand up and play a game of ping pong, sure enough, after thirty minutes they’re actually pretty energized and it’s a good thing.”

That leads them: “Well, maybe I should work out a little more. Maybe I’ll try this class or maybe I’ll work with a coach.” Two hundred person company, they have someone full time focused on wellness and setting up new and cool techniques for all the employees and making sure that they’re customized.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that is fascinating. That gets me very intrigued and excited to hear what you have to share in terms of what can a typical professional do? I think there are things that you’ll need, sort of buy in from on high or the leadership, but there are many other things you lay out in the book that you and I have control to do right here right now, kind of regardless of environment.

Leigh Stringer

There are a few things that just really surprised and delighted me that are things that I could do, that I could immediately suggest to anybody to do, and one of them was talking to some neurologists about brain function and creativity and innovation. There’s so much coming out of the woodworks about the human brain and how it works. One of the things that came out of the University of Goldsmiths in London was the look at basically how the brain charges up when it is in creative mode, what pieces are working and why.

This study, basically these guys said, “All right, we’re just going to give  these series of written tests that test your creativity and how cleverly you solve these series of problems, and we’re going to see what lights up and try to get to the bottom of it.” What they realized was that the part of the brain that was lighting up the most was the upper right hemisphere, obviously more on the executive function side.

Certainly you might expect the right side of your brain to be lighting up a bit. One of the things that they were trying to figure out was: what does cause that piece of the brain to light up more often than not? What they found was that it was really relaxation. When you relax your brain by walking, by taking a bath, by drinking a beer … There was actually one study where they had people drink a beer before they took the test and then not drink a beer.

Pete Mockaitis
How many?

Leigh Stringer
It was only one beer. It was one beer, but the beer drinkers did better than those who didn’t. This idea of relaxing, it’s a very personal thing I often … Yes, a lot of people relax by walking, but for you it might be just looking away from your computer for a little while.

It turns out the posture and kind of the position that’s least relaxing is kind of crunched over Cro-Magnon style over your laptop, typing away. It’s really looking away, and being around nature is a huge way to kind of release your brain from being so tightly held. That’s how we create and come up with new ideas, is by using the part of our brain that is not in a clenched state of mind.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fascinating and it totally ties in with what we heard from David Allen in episode fifteen. One of his best little quotable gems there is: “Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax.” There you have it. Hard brain science confirms that the more you can relax the body, the more you can get in that creative zone.

Leigh Stringer
Yeah. As a designer, as an architect, I look at all these office spaces that a lot of us are working in as kind of set up to put us in the opposite state of mind. It almost looks like a factory, right? Rows and rows of open offices or cubicles. We’re not able to kind of move around in these spaces often or workplaces, and there’s no nature nearby and there’s nothing that’s running water or something that would kind of help pull us out of this clench state.

Another something that you can do is literally just leave your office. I don’t mean permanently, but to walk outside for a few minutes or find a place that’s away from your primary work area to think a little differently. It’s true. When you come up with the best ideas you’re often in the bath or in the shower or something when you’re actually not trying so hard, and that’s where those synapses happen.

The other thing, I think, has been really interesting I guess, which ties into this a little bit, is some of the research from the sustainable design industry in terms of the concept of biophilia. Biophilia, I think it was coined by E. O. Wilson who’s huge in the sustainability movement, or maybe it was reused by him. It’s this desire and preference we have as human beings to be in and among nature.

One of the best ways to relax your brain, again it’s getting back to that creativity and innovation thing, is to be in nature, walk outside, and hopefully there’s some trees or a park nearby. If you don’t have that you can actually mimic it in lots of different ways. You can actually put a nice screensaver that has a gorgeous landscape that you love or a picture in your wall or natural materials even. If you can see the grain of wood in a certain percentage …

According to my environmental behavior folks: “Forty-five percent of the room should be wood.” I’m like, “Really?” There are these kinds of interesting studies that are coming out that says what percentage of a workplace or a home or anywhere should be more natural, and which instills kind of a relaxed state of mind. Even fake plants work beautifully. I know IKEA sells them. I’m actually considering getting a few for my office. Some offices have issues with plants and bugs and things like that, but even fake plants work beautifully.

Pete Mockaitis
I think I’ve even seen something like a little tray of grass that you can put your bare feet on. Tell us, innovator in workspace: is that something people do?

Leigh Stringer
I have not heard about the walking on the grass thing in the feet, but I’m all for it. Give it a shot. I was thinking more of my study has been around visually, what people see, because that is such a huge part of our processing around nature but I can only imagine that walking in the grass or walking just through an environment that has smells and birdsong and really stimulates all the senses, that’s got to be a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like it. I like it. Tell us, what else do you have? You had a nice section in your book about being in that place of creativity and flow and productivity, and it sounds like so nature and relaxation is a key piece of the puzzle. Anything else leap to mind as being critically important?

Leigh Stringer
Well, the big one that I have been looking at very carefully lately is this idea of control, of having control of your work environment. It stems from a study that some buddies at the Harvard School of Public Health turned me on to, which was done by two, I guess, epidemiologists. Karasek and Theorell are their names and they wrote this book called Healthy Work, which is a good one.

It’s pretty juicy. They looked at tons and tons of people, like ten thousand Swedish people or something like that, in all different jobs, a variety of job types from CEO to taxi driver to teacher to you name it. They looked at how much control they had in their jobs and how difficult their jobs were. When they said control, it’s like having control about the deliverables or their work product, having control in how, when, and where they work, whole series of things that tie to what that means.

They found that regardless of how difficult the job might be, the more control people had, the less likely they were to have heart disease and less likely they were to be stressed. There were all kinds of productivity benefits to that as well, less absenteeism. They were looking kind of at hard productivity measures that they could look at consistently across all these job types and found that, you know what, it’s win, win, win if your people have more control.

When we’re looking at office environments or the factory floor or anywhere, this idea of maybe not unlimited choice but at least some choice in how, where, and when we work and how we get our products done at the end of the day or papers or whatever it is that we’re doing, I think is only beneficial. There’s a lot of talk about generations and different generations work differently. I think that I find those assumptions don’t always hold up.

I think everyone complains about the open office from time to time. Everyone complains about certain aspects of technology. What is pretty common is that the desire to have some control to adjust how, when, and where you’re working. In terms of where I am often involved with is workplace consulting or design, I’m looking at whether someone can get up and move from one place and work in another place in the office or in the work site just as well, and maybe stand or sit.

The sit to stand thing I think is great for choice as well as for the human physical need to stand every now and again. It might mean working at home. It might mean working in a coworking site. It might mean changing posture or using two monitors and not one, but it’s kind of taking a hard look at what really makes you as an individual more effective, and your ability to adjust those things directly correlate to your health and also your productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. I like that. Working in my own home office, I have much control and I sure do like it. I have a hard time imagining going back. I just don’t think it’ll ever happen.

Leigh Stringer
Yeah. I was just going to say you’re a perfect case study in being able to control the physical environment, but also probably your ability to control when you work. You might be more effective at certain times of the day or you might be more effective … I don’t know, when you’re walking. A lot of people like to walk and talk on conference calls or sometimes work, make notes, bring a little pad with them.

I think, again, that flexibility is important to pay attention to and I think the issue really isn’t that a lot of employers don’t care. A lot of it’s just more managing large groups of people and giving them a little more autonomy, and I think it’s also their awareness that “Wow, this is actually a tool that can increase productivity, not inhibit it, so let me offer more choice, not less.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s lovely. Now I’d love to hear a little bit about your perspectives and pro tips that you have associated with maximizing just the energy that you’re able to bring to each work day and to minimize the, I guess, frequency and intensity of those energy crashes or lulls.

Leigh Stringer
Right. Well, here’s where a lot of my research was pulled from work done by sports science. I mentioned Jim Loehr earlier. He and others have been instrumental in creating the Human Performance Institute, Jack Groppel being the key partner, but lots of others in Orlando. This is a group of people that over the last thirty years have helped tennis players, elite athletes basically improve their game.

One of the things they noticed is that when athletes were coming to them fresh from high school or college or whatever and they wanted to compete at the highest levels, the difference between the good athletes and the great athletes were energy levels and how they maintained them over time. Those that were able to endure  point after point in a tennis match or game after game or even during training maintain a high level of energy, that gave them the advantage every time over their opponent.

Now, what the Human Performance Institute is doing, they’ve continued to train athletes but they’re also training the rest of us. They have a program called Corporate Athletes which recognizes that hey, the rest of us have to keep our energy up, too. We’re human, too. They’ve been studying this energy thing at the microbial level and have come up with pretty specific plans around nutrition and around movement, reduction in stress and sleep and the like.

One of the biggest tips, though, I got from them … It’s hard to say no when they tell you, “This is how you do it. This is how you lose weight or this is how you keep your energy level,” when they’re talking to Olympic athletes the day before they talk to you or prima ballerinas. I was like, “Okay, I guess they know what they’re talking about.”

They talked a lot about nutrition, which for me was a biggie that I continue to wrestle with, but this idea that snacking is actually really important and that you have three meals a day and that they should be only so big, so much and no more, and a mix of all the things that we know are in a good meal, and that snacking every three to four hours is actually recommended.

When they get really prescriptive they say they should be no more than a hundred, a hundred and fifty calories. A sense of number one, yes, we … If you go way back a million years ago, what were we doing? Hunting, gathering, grazing. We weren’t eating three proper meals a day. We were probably doing a little more grazing. That habit or that need kind of continues with us, but they also suggest that when you’re grazing that before each meal, before you snack, you actually should feel like you’re a little bit hungry.

You shouldn’t eat so much that you’re just “Oh, I’m stuffed,” you know. That’s the worst for productivity, right, especially in the office. You have a big fried chicken, french fry lunch, a thousand calories and come back to the office. Of course you’re not feeling productive. Part of their message around nutrition was really about maintaining your mental focus and your ability to kind of jump at the next task in front of you with your eating as well as with movement, which they recommended also doing pretty regularly throughout the day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. Balanced meals that are not too huge, some snacks that are smaller in the middle, and any thoughts on the age old percent fat versus carbohydrate versus protein debate coming out of the Human Performance Institute studies?

Leigh Stringer
They did. They had all kinds of stats about that and glycemic index and foods to eat and foods not to eat. I can’t rattle off percents off the top of my head right now, but one really helpful tool that they used was to talk a little bit about life as a business traveler. For those of you who do a lot of traveling like I do, it’s always an issue. I can’t bring three days worth of food in my suitcase. It just doesn’t work.

How do you handle when you’re at a restaurant, or how will you handle when you’re in the airport and the only thing available looks like it’s seriously not so good for you? Popcorn, peanuts, or popcorn or chips or the usual stuff. Whatever exercises look at: all right, well, can you buy some boiled eggs or some protein or pick up a snack that is not quite as processed along with other maybe easy to get foods in the airport?

They’re getting better. I think a lot of airports are getting a lot better. Maybe it’s some Greek yogurt or some other things. I always think of it this way, that the best defense is a really good offense. If you have identified ahead of time those foods that you think will be good in an airport, you’ve just kind of thought about it and you have a little quick list, it’s very helpful when you’re running through the airport to make that decision of “What am I going to eat?”

Because according to some nutritionists, we actually ask ourselves that question about ten thousand times a day or some enormous number. It’s a very ridiculous number. I guess it’s down to reducing choice, as opposed to increasing it. In the case of food, I think maybe coming up with things that you know work for your body and you know are easy to come by: I think that, for me at least, is the hardest issue because somebody throws something in front of you and to be able to choose whether you eat it or not or whether you eat half of it or not. Those are decisions that are hard to make on the fly.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so excited to dig in to some of that research. There’s the Human Performance Institute and their studies on sustained energy. I’ll be sure and link that in the show notes here and eat it up, so ha ha. Oh, I didn’t even mean to do that. Okay, that just worked out. I’m tickled. Okay. Sorry Leigh.

Leigh Stringer
I love it. A good pun.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell us then. That’s kind of the nutrition side of energy. How about: you’ve done some research and some writing on the sleep side of energy, as well.

Leigh Stringer
Right. There’s so much about sleep. Sleep is kind of just like brain science. I think we’re on the cusp of really understanding it so much better. There’s a lot in the book about sleep cycle and what that really looks like. It’s actually called sleep architecture, which, I love that term being an architect.

The biorhythms that we have during the course of the day and the evening and then this idea of the circadian rhythm, which goes a lot into the chemicals that release in your brain, releasing melatonin as you’re about to go to sleep and flush through your system and say, “Sleep, sleep, you’re so tired,” and then stop in the early part of the morning. Those cycles are really important to pay attention to we tend to ignore them, given our modern lifestyle, quite a bit.

Things that you can do to enhance sleep, which of course will increase your energy the next day, is … One of them that’s really emerging is this idea of using circadian lighting. Circadian lighting systems, the whole system itself, takes into account artificial lighting, reflection of light off surfaces, natural lighting. It’s a pretty complex thing. The idea with it is that it’s mimicking natural daylight, so it’s changing throughout the course of the day.

It’s really bright in a work area or an area of your home, for example, where you spend your day hours and then it becomes more warmer and a different frequency of light in the evening hours, which encourages you to sleep. If you don’t have the money or the interest or ability to change the whole lighting system, you can just take a bulb, a light bulb that has the special LED type bulb, and they have daylight bulbs and they have sleepy time bulbs, which I’ve used in my kids’ rooms.

They basically really do look and feel different. I went to a installation of a circadian lighting system at a school in Virginia. There was just a typical high school and there was one with a circadian lighting in it replaced in the typical fluorescent bulbs, and then another one that was just the typical standard fluorescent bulb and it’s unbelievable, the difference. You walk into the circadian light room, it feels just like daylight. It feels good. It’s hard to describe.

I was asking the faculty, “Hey, how do you feel?” One guy who’s been teaching this one class every year for the last five years at 7:30 in the morning … It’s an engineering class or something. He said, “Oh my gosh, I can tell a huge difference in the awakeness of my students.” High schoolers get pretty tired, especially at 7:30 in the morning. It just seems unholy to have them show up at that time.

They really did see a difference and they were, in fact, doing a study that showed that their grades were improving, particularly those that were kind of in the C level were moving into the B level category. They really are in early stages of that study and want to look at it every year. I was like, “Oh man. What parent doesn’t want their children to go to a school with circadian lighting in it from now on?”

If all the difference is changing light bulbs, you got to be kidding. You know? I think that is something you can do at home, actually. You can find one of these daylight bulbs and put it in where you have your morning coffee and see that, the difference and feel it for yourself, and see if you notice. I really do notice the difference in how I feel with just a simple change like that.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Now where can I acquire these? Right now my light bulb of choice, I didn’t think we were going to go here but here we are now, is the GE Reveal compact fluorescent, CFL. I dig it. I think it produces a darned fine light. Is that what I want or there’s something even better? What should I be buying?

Leigh Stringer
GE does produce a circadian light bulb. I don’t know what it’s called offhand. That’d be another good show note thing that we could add, but I think that there’s one by Lighting Science that I really, really enjoyed. There’s a sleepytime and a daylight light. It just hooks into your regular lampshade or whatever. It maybe looks a little weird. Some of them look a little different, but it should plug in just fine.

It’s a great thing to test out. There have been a number of articles that have come out looking at other LED lights from Philips and some other companies, and I think they’re all getting into the market. If there’s one thing in your workplace that I believe that we will all realize changes our productivity and our health, it’s lighting.

Because we, for most of our history, have been outside. For the first time in history we’re spending ninety percent of our days indoors, the last hundred years or so. Well, I guess a couple hundred years, industrial revolution. This time indoors is really messing us up from a sleep perspective and wellness perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so fascinating. Thank you for sharing that. Let’s talk a little bit more about the environment. Lighting is a big thing, and that you’ve also got some work when it comes to acoustics, air quality, temperature. What’s the rundown beyond light that we should be thinking about?

Leigh Stringer
Acoustics, the first thing you mentioned, is probably where I get the most complaints because it has to do with behavior. It has to do with people talking, and I’m often involved with teams and helping them design their space and of course in the side of their mouth they’re always like, “Yeah, but Bob’s really loud and he disrupts my ability to work.”

I think acoustics are huge and it can be very disruptive and very distracting. There are a lot of things that you can do with acoustics. The really easy, fast way is to plug earphones in, which I do. There’s all kinds of apps that have brown noise, pink noise, white noise.

Basically different frequencies drown out the human voice in particular, and also weather noises that might be distracting. That is a really fast way to do it. I mean, I know it’s not perfect and a lot of managers kind of look funny at their employees who wear earbuds but, I got to tell you, sometimes it’s the only defense.

If you can get more advanced and actually change the physical layout of your space or change some of the technology, there’s also it’s called white noise or sound masking more like, which is very good at distinguishing or masking out the human voice in a really open environment. The other way, of course, is to go get a room. If you really have a task that needs close work or reading, I will go and just move into a conference room and reserve it for a couple hours or work at home.

Not everybody has that flexibility. I totally get that. I think probably the earphone thing or finding a conference room nearby might be the best solution, but acoustics are an age old problem. Even in scenarios where everybody’s in an enclosed office, people still complain of noise. Because often the walls between offices don’t a hundred percent go to the bottom of the floor of the floor above you.

You know what I’m saying. All the way to deck is what we call it. Basically the joints that hold up the floor. If it doesn’t go all the way up to the floor above you, often you can hear the guy next to you making personal calls or talking loudly. There’s this interesting issue that we have as humans. If you can see another person you naturally will drop your voice, but if you can’t see someone, you don’t realize they’re in the office next to you or the cubicle next to you, people talk a lot louder.

There are all sorts of interesting studies, one by the General Services Administration which I really appreciate, which looked up something like ten thousand open work environments and looked at different cubicle height size. Actually when they dropped the cubicle height enough so that at least when you’re sitting you know there’s somebody, kind of the top of their head, you can see them next to you, people were much more likely to drop their voice and there were fewer acoustical issues.

Pete Mockaitis

Leigh Stringer
It’s a work in progress. Because people move in space. That’s the other thing. You design a system that’s perfect for one person sitting in an office, and of course there’s change happening all around. People moving in and out of conference rooms, going to the kitchen, going in another, whatever.

This idea of designing for a perfect place … Acousticians have a really tough job. The best thing we can give, I think, a lot of employees is the ability to move around and not to feel trapped in a certain seat or a certain place to get their work done.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Boy, this is so fun but time is flying here. You tell me: is there anything you want to make sure you put out there, whether it’s about temperature, which you didn’t quite get to, or anything else before we kind of shift gears to the fast fave segment?

Leigh Stringer
Well, thermal comfort is another one that you mentioned. It’s a combination of airflow and temperature and humidity. Often when people say it’s hot or cold, it may actually be airflow or humidity that’s affecting their concern. Something to keep in mind, so it is possible may open a window or put in a fan will actually make folks feel more comfortable in a pinch.

I mean, obviously the HVAC systems need to be looked at holistically if something’s a chronic problem, but often it’s a combination of things that really affect thermal comfort. On the air quality side, buildings are designed at the lowest common denominator. If you look at building code … My friends again, are really doing a lot of work on this front and they tell me that basically the air quality of a lot of our buildings are not much above what should be on a factory floor.

That’s what code says. Now a lot of them are designed at a higher criteria than that. We are definitely affected by air quality and a lot of dust and other sort of particulates in the air. Sustainable buildings, buildings with the LEED certification on them or with emerging certifications like the WELL standard or FitWell standard … These standards are going to be great at improving air quality over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. All right then. Well, now I’d like to hear quickly some of your favorite things. Could you start us off by sharing a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Leigh Stringer
I find myself using this quote a lot by Churchill: “We shape our dwellings and thereafter our dwellings shape us.” It’s true, that the build’s environment has a huge impact on how we behave and, of course, as an architect I spend a lot of time shaping those buildings and then it can become either a really good thing over time or it can become the bane of our existence if we do it poorly. That one sticks with me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. How about a favorite habit, something that you do regularly that you’ve found makes all the difference for your personal effectiveness?

Leigh Stringer
I try and get outside in the morning, whether it’s walking, running, having a cup of coffee. That is been proven to really help with sleep, actually. It’s one of those things that, if you get outside early, the morning light shuts down melatonin production in your brain more quickly. Again indoors, the lighting just isn’t nearly strong enough.

You have to stand really close to a window for it to have the light waves to have that right effect in the SCN part of the brain, which affects the turning on and off of melatonin. Getting outside just for as long as you can make it happen, take a conference call or whatever: I find that is really, really healthy for my happiness and my sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. How about a favorite nugget, something that you share that gets people sort of nodding their heads, retweeting, taking notes in a hurry?

Leigh Stringer
I believed for a long time that I worked really hard and now I’m really trying to work smart. I think working more hours isn’t the solution for me personally or for a company or for our country, for anything. It’s being really smart and thoughtful about the hours that we use. I’ve gotten a lot of really positive feedback on some articles I’ve written and things I have talked about on videos around the importance of the human machine and paying attention.

We’re not robots, we’re not production equipment, and if you look at our workplaces and if you look at the way that we think about business, it’s centered around an outdated system from the Industrial Revolution. We really need to be thinking more about people and what motivates us, what gets us excited, what gets us up in the morning, what helps gives us energy, like we were talking about earlier.

If we pay attention to that, then all the other metrics that we’re so worried about measuring will fall into place. We’ll see more revenue, we’ll see more sales, we’ll see better quality papers, better quality writing, if we pay attention to the human machine and not some machine that doesn’t exist anymore, exists in a factory somewhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. What’s the best way for folks to get in touch with you or learn more? Where would you point them?

Leigh Stringer
I have a blog: leighstringer.com. Super simple, and I try and post as any new research I get. I do a lot of interviews. Little bit different than your format. They’re the old school written kind, but just talking to people who are in the world of health and wellness in different places and trying to connect them to each other and share their latest research. I try and put it all in one spot for myself and for my sanity, but there’s also a way that they can contact me there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Do you have a favorite challenge or call to action that you’d send forth for those seeking to be more awesome at their jobs?

Leigh Stringer
I think it’s important to pull yourself from your screen and every once in a while walk around the office and, just as an outsider, pay attention to how people are working and what could be better.

How they or you individually could improve how, when, and where to increase your productivity, increase the happiness and the health of people that you’re working with. There’s a lot that just by paying attention can really … It will just jump off the page, for lack of a better word. Sometimes that just requires looking away or looking away from your computer, again, and looking at how people are interacting with each other and working individually. Then talking to them, as well. I think nothing beats that, is that too.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, Leigh, this has been so much fun. I wish you lots of luck and I hope that your new book here, The Healthy Workplace, is just rocketing to the bestseller lists and making cool things happen for you.

Leigh Stringer
Oh, thank you so much. This has been a real pleasure.

One Comment

  • Dawn Lorentz says:

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom Leigh. As a former corporate burnout who became physically and mentally ill from Stress, I couldn’t agree more. I worked in any unhealthy environment for over 10 years. Our bodies where made to move and not sit all day staring at a screen. My company Self Reboot is helping companies in all industries improve their employees health and wellness. Our signature class is Self Reboot, 15-60 minutes of breathing, stretching, low impact exercises and a guided meditation at the end. The class is designed for convenience – performed in a conference room or open space , accommodates as many emoloyees that fit comfortably in the room plus no changing is required. I would love to Reboot more companies and help their employees feel healthy and happier.

Leave a Reply