H is for Hygge.


By now, you may be familiar with the term hygge. Though, if this word seems foreign to you (it is! it's Danish) then you aren't alone. Only recently has the concept started to spread in the US and it is quickly becoming a favorite of designers and major companies.

So what is hygge? The Danish concept is pronounced HOO-gah, "like an old-timey car horn." Hygge roughly translates to “coziness” and “well-being” and is more than a design movement, it is a way of life. To have hygge is to possess warmth, safety and, most importantly, community.

It is no secret that the Danes are some of the happiest people on earth. So what does their way of life teach us about making the most out of our frigid, dreary winter days at the office?

It starts with understanding that “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things.”

Let's start by taking a look at what is not hygge in our workday.

Winters in Pittsburgh are brutal. Unless you love subzero wind chills and grey skies, it's likely the majority of your shortened winter days are spent indoors. Cabin fever inevitably sets in. At the office, we work through lunch, likely eating uncomfortably at our desk. We don't move around much or interact with our co-workers. Some of us never glimpse the outside for 8 hours at a time! We've got an abundance of technology, distracting open office plans, and a color wash of boring beige shining under florescent lighting. Yep, not hygge.

There are simple solutions that can help reverse these negative effects on your mood this winter. Just take a page out of the hygge handbook.

One would think that hygge in a workspace is contradictory. The idea of working hard and being efficient doesn't bring thoughts of warmth and comfort to mind. Danish anthropologist Jeppe Linnet says "all well-functioning workplaces have space for hygge.” In an article from The Guardian, Linnet goes on to suggest “building physical spaces that are a bit home-like, even in an office building, a corner where you can hide a bit ... and regain some courage and energy” help provide hygge.

Making minor adjustments to a current space by adding warm colors in the decor and choosing to spend funds wisely on good quality lighting, comfortable seating, and a well-stocked kitchen showed a measurable difference for Danish tech company, Peakon. According to CEO Dan Rodgers, “Ultimately, your office has to be a place where employees want to spend time, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to make it homely.”

Someone who knows a lot about happiness and hygge is Meik Wiking. He is the Danish author of the definitive book on hygge and chief executive of The Happiness Research Institute. A few of the principles Wiking says are needed for hygge include atmosphere, presence, pleasure, harmony, and shelter. Sound complicated? It's simpler than you think.

Let's tackle a few:

Atmosphere Create warmth through color. Try earth tones that reflect metallic or mineral hues found in nature. Don't be afraid to mix warm and cool colors together. Throw in some texture with natural fibers such as wool and linen accompanied by natural materials like wood, metal, and stone. Spaces containing natural elements “offer cognitive respite, stimulate creativity and improve work performance.” Most important to atmosphere is lighting. Natural light is best for the health of the eye but consider layering in some soothing orange lighting. The best ambient, work place safe way to mimic the candlelit glow that the Danish have made synonymous with hygge. Lastly, don't forget the plants! Adding potted plants reduces stress while boosting the air quality.

Presence Being in the moment means less distractions. Specifically technology distractions. Workers should be able to find at least 15 minutes of the day to "power-down" from their phones or computers. Aside from the brief break from the screens, having a more conducive place to complete daily tasks is essential to being present. If you have a stack of reports to read, go sit on a comfy couch. If you need to brainstorm with a colleague, meet in a courtyard or the lounge over a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

Pleasure Piles of paper and disorganized desktops don't make anyone feel cheerful. Most times those messes are unavoidable. Balance the chaos by personalizing your space. Bring in items that speak to you and inspire feelings of joy such as photographs, your favorite mug, a comfortable throw on your desk chair, or a souvenir from a memorable trip. Having the comforts of home at arms length goes a long way to feeling hygge at the office.

Harmony According to Ethonomics: Designing For The Principles Of The Modern Workplace, "We are more alert after taking a walk with a coworker or friend–and perhaps having an insightful conversation. And that feeling of well-being is likely to affect the way we interact with others–less negative feelings and fewer expressions of anger, irritation, or resentment.” Work spaces should flex to provide a variety of spaces and destinations for workers to inhabit that promote movement throughout the day as well as interaction.

Shelter The flex spaces we previously mentioned are imperative to collaboration but a well-executed design cannot forget the addition of secluded nooks for private conversations and defined cubicles for focused work. Hygge for the office is also about "acoustically-secured cocoons" whether that be in a private room with comfortable seating or at a typical desk setting. Providing a feeling of shelter within a larger space is crucial to fostering a sense of comfort and well-being.

In a supercharged world, hygge is a reminder to pause and savor small comforts.

Ready to give hygge a try in your office?

Good Reads:

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

Book of Hygge by Louisa Thomsen Brits


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