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Hygge: What is it, and Does Your Office Need it?

April 28, 2017 | by Melissa Landon
Reviewed by real estate expert Michael Colacino

Updated April, 2018

About half of the U.S. workers have jobs that allow them to work remotely at least part of the time, and 80 to 90 percent of workers say they’d like to work from home at least some of the time. These people are not exclusively entrepreneurs and freelancers. In fact, the number of people working for a company from home at least part of the time has increased by 115 percent since 2005.

“Hygge is the sensation of familiarity, of being seen and recognized and feeling at home.”

People want to work remotely for a lot of reasons, such as a lack of commute, freedom to tend to other parts of life that aren’t work-related, ability to wear anything they want, or the opportunity to without a supervisor present. Although allowing employees to work remotely full-time or part-time can be beneficial and effective, it simply isn’t feasible for every company all the time. So how can we make employees happier at work?

Well, the answer may lie in making the office feel more like home. Enter Hygge: the new workplace buzzword that has many rethinking how an office should be set up, what it should offer, and what people should be allowed to do.

So…What is Hygge?

Hygge, pronounced “HUU-gah,” is a Danish word that means “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.”

Despite its long, dark, cold winters, Denmark is routinely ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world. Happiness expert Meik Wiking believes Danes’ implementation of hygge is partially responsible for that title. So what gives an environment a feeling of hygge? Think of things like coffee, fuzzy socks, relaxing music, a comfortable chair, a lighthearted conversation, a delicious meal, or a sleeping cat.

Hygge means something different to everyone, so perhaps the best way to describe it would be to say it feels like home. Hygge, The Danish Art of Happiness author Marie Tourell Soderberg thinks so. She writes, “Hygge is the sensation of familiarity, of being seen and recognized and feeling at home.”

graphic; the hygge manifesto

We can apply hygge to the workplace and use it as a framework to create an ideal workplace. Companies can implement hygge by changing the office setup, adding amenities, and updating rules or allowances. Individuals, too, can adopt some principles of hygge without disrupting their fellow workers.

Suggestions for Company-wide Hygge

Here are some safe company-wide initiatives that can make the office more conducive to hygge:

  1. Softer lighting. Office lighting can be the difference between a relaxing space and an anxiety-ridden office. Luckily, you can fix poor lighting. In some cases, overhead lights can be adjusted to less harsh lumens with a dimmer. If that option isn’t available, it may be enough to simply turn some of the lights off to cast a softer glow on the office floor. If you want to get a bit more ambitious, replace all the bulbs with full-spectrum lights—bulbs that imitate natural light—instead.
  2. Office greenery. The presence of plants has been linked to a reduction in stress, noise and air toxins in the workplace. And they are aesthetically pleasing, cheap, and easy to maintain.
  3. Office bookcases. Bookshelves can completely enliven a wall, add character and charm to a space, and subtly recall a home office. Shelves also serve a practical purpose beyond propping up select works you want everyone to read: they can store office supplies like notepads, pens, batteries, and paperclips in a highly visible, aesthetically pleasing way.
  4. Better coffee. Retailers like Stumptown and Blue Bottle offer great discounts on large orders, and an upgrade in equipment over the usual K-cup/drip machine apparatus may be worth the investment for your team’s happiness.
  5. Improved office layout. In typical offices, people spend all day sitting in their cubicles, but at home, people move from seat to seat and from room to room. Try setting up the office to encourage movement around the space. Arrange the office to include private areas for small meetings, individual areas for quiet work, and collaborative spaces conducive to face-to-face conversation. You may even consider setting up some outdoor spaces where people can work when the weather is nice.
  6. Miscellaneous perks. Provide something for your employees that makes them feel excited to come to work. That might be free breakfast on Mondays, an office gym, on-site massages, a relaxed dress code for Fridays, or social outings during the workday. Use your imagination and tailor perks to what you think your employees would enjoy.

Suggestions for Individual Hygge

Here are some suggestions individuals can take to increase the hygge of their office experience.

  • Bring a pair of comfy slippers. What could feel more like home than slippers? Just keep them under your desk and slip them on when you get to work. If you don’t think you should walk around the office in them, just put your regular shoes back on when you need to get up.
  • Get a light phone. There’s a growing body of research that shows our smartphone addictions impair our ability to focus and think strategically. For those ready to take a radical step, a new phone will take you back to the 2000s and remove the distraction of smartphones. The light phone only takes and receives calls. Now you don’t have to worry about notifications interrupting your thought process every few minutes. For the rest of us, putting your phone on airplane mode and out of sight during the day may be more realistic.
  • Make a great playlist. We all know music can do wonders to improve our mood, and we can use it to add hygge at the workplace, too. Check out this list of hygge-friendly tunes, add Spotify’s hygge playlist, or make your own.
  • Invest in your own lighting. Even if your workplace doesn’t implement natural lighting, you can add a full-spectrum light bulb to a lamp on your desk or even bring in a candle or two.
  • Do random acts of kindness. Hygge isn’t just about your environment; it’s also about people. Try bringing in homemade food, unexpectedly helping a coworker out with an unpleasant task, or simply taking a few minutes out of your day to clean up the kitchen.
  • Take advantage of your lunch break. This is age-old advice. Don’t just eat lunch at your desk! Go outside; go to a restaurant; eat in the break room with a work friend. Just mix it up and enjoy your food. Lunch is supposed to be a break, so at the very least don’t work through it!

graphic; office hygge starter kit

At Home and in the Office: Implementing Hygge

“Coziness, familiarity, being seen and recognized, feeling at home…all this sounds great in theory,” says Lauren McCloud, an HR consultant and creator of From the Inside Out. “But some workers may feel uncomfortable with the concepts…for those who have strict personal and professional boundaries, this can be an issue.”

Bottomless brunch in the office, for example, won’t fly at most companies (and rightfully so). Even noble pursuits like “team bonding” activities make some people uncomfortable. The definition of these hygge boundaries is key to providing an atmosphere that promotes happiness for some without alienating others.

So consider the audience—your employees—and the company culture before adopting all of the suggestions listed above. Maybe just choose a few. It’s unlikely anyone will have a problem with improved lighting and office plants.

Maybe, making the home more like the workplace by working remotely isn’t the only way to make workers happy. Maybe, another answer is the opposite: making the workplace more like home.

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