By Alex Marrs Area Sq
With research revealing that two-fifths of entrepreneurs have come up with the idea for a successful business while on the loo, I’m taking a look at how to create the most inspiring environment in the workplace’s smallest space.
By making your restrooms unpredictable and interesting, it will inspire people to think differently. A hotel in Oxfordshire transformed the Victorian high-level water tanks into mini-aquariums housing tropical fish, with different species in each cubicle and facts about the creatures. The HQ of a music company covers the walls of its loos with cassette tapes from compilations and albums from well-known artists to hand-written mix tapes recorded off the radio. Employees are encouraged to bring in their own to contribute to the mural. A loo in a café on the south coast has a one-way mirror – from the café you see your reflection, from the loo you see the café.
Another café, this time in Vienna, has see-through cubicle doors, which only become opaque when the door is locked. A London restaurant has urinals shaped like women’s mouths to create a shock factor, another has individual egg-shaped pods (pink for girls, blue for men) instead of cubicles. Consider: installing paper-thin TVs on the inside of the cubicle door, or above basins, with rolling film clips; novelty loo paper to celebrate topical events (Arsenal loo paper after the FA Cup win, royal crowns after the birth of Princess Charlotte) or designed loo seats with inspirational quotes; or different coloured lighting depending on the time of day/day of the week.
Bring in the brand
Incorporating your organisation’s brand into the office is a well-known trend, but don’t let brand stop at the door of the bog-standard washroom. Legoland in Windsor has clever water-saving urinals made our of Lego’s primary colours; while the HQ of Villeroy & Boch uses stylish white porcelain urinals which wouldn’t be out of place on the upmarket china manufacturer’s display shelves. Restrooms can also incorporate an organisation’s values. Employee wellbeing, for example, is a key concern for many businesses. There are loos available with medical sensors which measure blood sugar levels in urine as well as pulse, blood pressure and body fat content of the user which is automatically sent to the company doctor. Charts to demonstrate hydration levels from urine colour are an easy low-tech option. Make sure your loos are in line with your brand and values.
At home, Britons waste 28 litres of water every time they turn on the shower unnecessarily to cover embarrassing loo noises. That’s often not an option in an office, so employees without the luxury of floor-to-ceiling cubicles typically flush unnecessarily, wait until the toilets are empty or a colleague is flushing, wasting both time and water. But there are some innovative ways to save people’s blushes, time and water. A new app provides the sound of an open tap or shower running, while the Japanese install a Sound Princess, a device which creates a loud flushing sound similar to a toilet being flushed, in most women’s bathrooms to mask unfortunate sounds. Back in the UK, organisations will often play a sound track (Handel’s The Water Music anyone?) to create background noise so people can wee without cringing. Soundtracks of the seaside/city/country or great political/historical speeches, or a company ‘album or film of the day’ can be great talking points and inspire creativity.
Protect the crown jewels
Research from Sony and o2 reveals that 75 per cent of people use their phone on the loo and 15 per cent have accidentally dropped their phone down the pan – with numerous others facing cracked screens after dropping it on the hard tiled floor. Consider installing astroturf in cubicles to provide the ultimate soft landing for a mobile, as one corporate did. Or offer phone pouches or small shelves to provide a secure place for those all important phones.
Smelling of roses
it’s not enough to mask any unpleasant odours in today’s washroom. An inspirational loo should have quirky and interesting smells to provoke reaction in your guests. Seaside aromas to complement a seaside soundtrack; bubblegum and cherryade to evoke childhood memories; freshly-mown grass to stimulate a sense of freshness and wellbeing and get people thinking.
The standard vending machine offering sanitary items is a stalwart of many corporate washrooms. Give the vending machine a rethink and provide free items such as face wipes, sewing kits, shoe laces, shoe cleaning, chewing gum, hair brushes interspersed with other less obvious things such as magazines, Sudoko, the latest bestseller … things to stretch the mind in a format people don’t tend to have thanks to iPads and mobiles.
And remember to change the ideas regularly. Even the quirkiest design becomes dull on repetition.