Alex Pentland, director of the Human Dynamics Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts), is working on reality mining—the use of sensors to extract information from the environment to predict future human behavior. He and his team "found that the best predictors of productivity were a team's energy and engagement outside formal meetings" and that communication patterns are more important for team building than most other factors are. Pentland therefore advised a bank's call center to foster communication by adjusting its schedule so that every employee takes a break at the same time. As a result of the schedule change, average call-handling time at the call center dropped by 8%, and the lower-performing teams reduced their average handle time by more than 20%.
Corroborating the need for breaks and downtime, a study by University of California, Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, California), psychologists Benjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler showed that "creativity is fostered by tasks that allow the mind to wander." In the study, undergraduate students performed a series of tasks and showed that the best ideas often arrived when they were relaxing or otherwise mentally untaxed.
Numerous types of opportunities exist for individuals and organizations to support innovative and creative work environments. For instance, nonprofit group Lunch Beat (www.lunchbeat.org) is setting up lunchtime dance parties in several Swedish cities, and organizers have held similar sessions in Finland, Germany, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. The events last from noon to 1:00 p.m. and are basically open dance parties. Some attendees report feeling a surging positive energy and a renewed willingness to tackle the work of the afternoon. And researchers at Fraunhofer IAO (Stuttgart, Germany) have designed ceiling lighting that replicates natural daylight. The ceiling features LED lighting, enabling a balanced color spectrum and light changes to mimic the effect of clouds passing by in the sky. Research is revealing that flexible, changing lighting can increase employee productivity, improve employee morale, and reduce the amount of sick leave that employees take.