When you think of great office design, your first instinct is to think of something that’s visually appealing.

While the visual aspects of an office play a key role, what about stimulating the other senses?

If you delve a little deeper, you’ll often find that things like acoustics have been carefully considered to create a quieter working environment. It’s also likely that textures might have been given some thought.

But what about the sense of smell? Unsurprisingly, the scent of an office is something that’s pretty much always overlooked. But maybe that should change.

In 2016, Savills and The BCO surveyed 1,000 workers and found that 75% said that scent was important to them in the workplace.

It’s vital that employees enjoy spending time in their working environment, so how can smell help to achieve this?

Wake up and smell the coffee

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In recent years, the retail and hospitality industries have started to harness the power of smell and use it to their advantage.

Most of us will have heard the theory that a freshly brewed pot of coffee or the smell of baking bread can help you to sell your home.

The same is true in shops, stores and hotels, where it is predominantly used to drive sales.

Supermarkets changed their baking times from overnight to during the day simply so that the smell could spread across the store.

Employees in Abercrombie & Fitch stores regularly spray their signature cologne, Fierce, into the air to keep the scent fresh.

While this approach might seem relevant when it comes to selling properties, fresh bread or after shave, the same theory could be used when it comes to an office environment.

Scents that make sense

Much like the relationship between colour and mood, there’s been plenty of research into the psychology of scent.

  • According to researchers at The University of California, the smell of coffee can lead to a calming effect.
  • A study at Tubingen University in Germany found that vanilla fragrance had the same effect.
  • A Thailand study showed that the smell of roses reduced both breathing rate and blood pressure.
  • Athletes who sniffed peppermint were seen to run faster and had better concentration than those who hadn’t.
  • And children seemingly performed better at tests when exposed to the aroma of fresh strawberries.

We’ll be the first to admit that these should probably be taken with a pinch of scented salt. A waft of vanilla latte is unlikely to increase productivity any time soon.

A biophilic bouquet

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Image source: PHS Greenleaf

We’ve already looked at Biophilia and the many benefits of keeping plants in the office. Our Design Director, Helen, also gave her opinions on the trend in a recent PHS Greenleaf biophilia blog.

But as well as improving air quality plants can also bring an added aroma to the workplace.

The relaxing qualities of lavender are well known but spraying its scent during factory tea breaks in Japan was shown to improve post-break production.

The citrus notes of Orange Jessamine have also been shown to improve productivity.

It’s worth remembering when adding these natural scents into the office that it may trigger allergies in the workplace for some people.

While it’s been fun to sniff out the science behind some smells, we’re certainly not suggesting you fill your office space with the heady aroma of a hundred and one different air fresheners.

However, these findings do at least show that the right scent can sometimes make a difference.

And maybe it is worth occasionally replacing an instant coffee with a more aromatic pot of freshly-ground Colombian.