Restorative environments are receiving growing attention as a source of stress reduction and other benefits. It is commonly known today that audio-visual technology solutions can relax people quickly and effectively, and can therefore be considered for restorative environments. However, the body of empirical research on the restorativeness of audio-visual technology is limited.
This paper reports on a pilot project with a small-scale study that was carried out to evaluate the restorative environment created using the VGoray System. The study was conducted employing two sets of interviews in a face-to-face setting and the Perceived Restorativeness Scale (PRS). The data used in the qualitative analysis represent evaluations from 17 university staff members. Even though this created environment was evaluated with widely diverging views in respect to its restorative qualities, it was generally perceived as restorative. The results also raised questions potentially related to a lack of correspondence between several PRS items and the environment created using the VGoray System. Overall, the study sheds more light on the restorative characteristics of audio-visual environments and emphasises the importance of further PRS scale development with attention on the restorative qualities of environments created using audio-visual technology.
The ageing of the European working population has brought about questions on how to ensure that there exist jobs that can be undertaken by an older workforce and working conditions that permit people to remain in work longer (Eurofound, 2015). In addition to demographical change, technological change must be considered as well, as it affects workplaces and working conditions in many ways (Eurofound, 2017). Current rapid changes in technologies have reshaped the content of work tasks as well as the intensity and complexity of work itself requiring new skills and training for multiple tasks to be managed. For example, while offering numerous benefits, information and communication technologies (ICT) have also increased work demands as they easily remove boundaries between work and non-work life. Thus, in the contemporary workplace, when people attempt to manage their responsibilities and tasks, they may be exposed to a range of work stressors and face difficulty, strain, anxiety or worry that may cause work-related stress (Stranks, 2005). Stress has been found to have a negative impact on individuals’ executive functioning, including decision making and attention (Gray, 1999; LeBlanc, 2009). This is especially true for older workers. Work-related stress, together with its associated negative health and business outcomes, affects a significant number of workplaces (EU-OSHA, 2014). In the EU-funded project carried out by Matrix (2013), the cost of work-related depression in Europe was estimated to be EUR 617 billion annually.
The restorative environment is often named as a key to controlling the level of stress, keeping up job performance, enabling the renewal of cognitive resources, and maintaining health and overall wellbeing (e.g., Isen et al., 1987; Hartig et al., 1997; Korpela et al., 2014; Ulrich, 1991). This reflects a growing body of research into the management and prevention of work-related stress, and the benefits of the restorative environment in various disciplines (von Lindern et al., 2016).
Restorative characteristics or qualities, which result in better performance in terms of cognitive abilities, positive affect, and the experience of stress reduction, are commonly found in natural environments (e.g., Berto, 2005; Coon et al., 2011; Hartig et al., 1991; Kaplan, 1995; Kaplan & Berman, 2010). Researchers have also shown that restorative effects on stress take place while watching videos of natural environments and observing nature posters (e.g., Kweon et al., 2008; Lee et al., 2009; Ulrich et al., 1991; Ulrich et al., 2003), and even colours can greatly affect mood (e.g., Guilford & Smith, 1959; Wexner, 1954).
Thus, a variety of environments is capable of providing a restorative experience (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan, 1995). For example, a well-known entrainment technology with various audio-visual solutions provides rich opportunities for experiencing restorativeness, but very few studies have attempted to examine the restorative qualities and benefits of these environments. There is therefore a strong need of more empirical studies to contribute to the understanding of the potential of restorative environments that encompass audio-visual technology solutions.
This paper sought to present the results of the pilot project, which aimed to create an audio-visual restorative environment that was applicable to the workplace using the VGoray System technology solution, and to conduct a small-scale empirical study based on the audio-visual sessions. The study focused on initial understanding people’s perceptions of the restorativeness of the audio-visual environment created using the VGoray System and the conditions favourable for utilising this environment in the workplace.
The pilot project was planned and implemented in collaboration between VGoray company (Budapest, Hungary & UK), the HAMK Smart Research Unit and the HAMK School of Wellbeing (Häme University of Applied Sciences, HAMK, Finland). The VGoray equipment was used to create the restorative environment for the audio-visual sessions in the HAMK School of Wellbeing premises.
Scholars have always been keen to find what workplace characteristics affect the level of stress and number of health problems experienced by workers (e.g., Stansfeld & Candy, 2006; Sverke et al., 2002). For example, environmental psychologists have studied restorative environments that provide the information needed to increase knowledge of stress, and the stress-inducing and reducing characteristics of environments (Saegert, 1976; Saegert & Winkel, 1990).
Stress and restorative environments theories
Stress is difficult to define because it means different things to different people as they react differently to stressful situations. Despite the extensive body of research into work-related stress, Kinman and Jones (2005) posited that there is a lack of consensus on the conceptualisation of stress, and according to Bhui et al. (2016), theoretical models and definitions of stress vary considerably in the research literature. In the context of this study, work-related stress is considered as “a pattern of emotional, cognitive, behavioural and physiological reactions to adverse and noxious aspects of work content, work organisation and work environment” (European Commission, 2008, p. V).
However, what is definite is that stress brings about negative feelings and can threaten peoples’ wellbeing and health by increasing vulnerability to many diseases. In the scientific literature, the negative effects of stress on health and wellbeing have been acknowledged for decades. Researchers claim that an increase in work stress can lead to physical illness, as well as psychological distress and mental illness (Eskelinen et al., 1991; Nieuwenhuijsen et al., 2010). Cox (1993), in his seminal review, stated that there is evidence that the experience of work-related stress is associated with changes in both behaviour and physiological function that may both be harmful to people’s health. Therefore, this raises a lot of concerns about how to cope with increasing work-related stress and the implementation of stress reduction programmes and management interventions.
Thus, for human beings, restoration is similar in meaning to “stress relief” (Ulrich et al., 1991), and restorative environments are the environments that both permit and foster restoration (Hartig, 2004). According to Kaplan (1995), restorative environments are those specific settings whose physical, spatial and non-spatial characteristics support the recovery of psychological equilibrium. Furthermore, Nousiainen (2016) defines restorative environments as ones that are healing, therapeutic, integrative and revitalizing. Hence, “restorativeness” refers to the characteristics of environments that offer a relaxing atmosphere, facilitate recovery from stress and anxiety, and support good mental health and wellbeing. In this study, relaxing atmosphere implies “mentally relaxed”, “physically relaxed”, “disengaged”, and “rested” categories of relaxation states (Smith, 2007).
Two well-known restorative environments theories – the Attention Restoration Theory (ART) and the Stress Reduction Theory or the Psycho-Evolutionary Theory (PET) – emphasise person-environment transactions and their characteristics or qualities (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989; Ulrich et al., 1991). Thus, Attention Restoration Theory offers a set of theoretical constructs that are useful in understanding the restorative experiences of individuals and their transactions with the environment. These constructs were the focus of Hartig et al. (1997), who proposed a measure of restorative characteristics perceived in environments – the Perceived Restorativeness Scale (PRS) – based on the Attention Restoration Theory (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989). According to the ART, people should experience a restorative environment in terms of the following four characteristics (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan, 1995): (1) the feeling of “being away”, i.e., escaping from unwanted distractions, distancing from routine or demanding activities, and suspending the pursuit of particular purposes; (2) “fascination”, i.e., the individual’s effortless, interest-driven attention in certain environmental elements and engagement in environment-related activities; (3) the environment’s “extent”, i.e., its richness and coherence for perceptual and conceptual or imaginary experience; and (4) the feeling of the “compatibility”, i.e., a good match between the environment and personal needs, interests, purposes and inclinations. “Fascination” plays a key role in restoration, supported by other characteristics like “being away”, “extent”, and “compatibility” (ibid.).
People sense the environment with all their body by watching, listening, smelling and touching (Nousiainen, 2016). Each of these senses plays its own specific role in perceiving the world around and achieving the experience of relaxation. However, while creating a restorative environment at the workplace, the senses such as vision and hearing should be considered primarily and, most likely, equally. These senses can bring about greater levels of positive affect, which according to Miller (2011) refers to the extent to which positive moods such as interest, alertness and joy are experienced subjectively by an individual. Importantly, positive affect stimulates creativity and imagination in people. It has been reported in many studies that positive affect particularly increases people’s creativity or innovative problem solving (e.g., Amabile et al., 2005; Isen et al., 1987).
The influence of light and musical sound on people’s moods and various cognitive behaviors has been widely recognised for centuries and used in many cultures to stimulate mindfulness and to create an atmosphere of calm and spiritual presence that helps to achieve relaxation of the body and mind. This influence has been substantiated by many researchers who report on the potential of light and sound to advance the methods of modern medicine as well (e.g., Bedrosian & Nelson, 2013; Cajochen, 2007; Harvey, 2015; Parry & Maurer, 2003; White, 2000). For instance, in the treatment of the neuropsychiatric behaviours and symptoms of a variety of brain disorders or diseases, including depression, different light therapy methodologies have begun to be considered as effective tools (Kim et al., 2016). Sound or music therapy has also come to be regarded as an effective complementary therapy method to many traditional medical services and procedures (Dileo, 1999).
Recognising the benefits of the above-mentioned influence, a widely known entrainment technology provides various audio-visual solutions designed to help people achieve a state of mind in which they feel positive, confident, resourceful, and relaxed. For example, for individual use, different “mind machines” such as audio-visual systems (AVS) and audio-visual entrainment (AVE) devices such as mindLightz™ ColorMatrix Lightframes (by MindGear Inc.) and Digital Audio Visual Integration Devices – DAVID (by Mind Alive Inc.) are available on the market. According to the manufacturers, these are very effective relaxation tools that assist in meditation and can aid the learning process, as well as increasing intellectual focus and physical energy.
These AVS manufacturers specify that these systems utilise light and sound pulses at a specified frequency to stimulate the brain wave activity of the user, leading the user’s mind from normal waking consciousness to a range of desirable states of consciousness. The person is immersed in colourful geometric patterns and entrancing sounds through special light frames or glasses worn over closed eyes and headphones over the ears. These innovative solutions are found useful worldwide as a non-pharmaceutical approach to improve mental health, and to increase relaxation and well-being (e.g. mindlightz.com and mindalive.com). Nevertheless, there is a lack of empirical research in these areas. For example, to fill the gap in the use of AVS for mental health care Micheletti (1999), in his empirical research, obtained impressive findings on the overall changes in behavioural functioning among the groups of individuals having AVS treatment.
In addition to digital entrainment technology for individual use, there is a VGoray technology solution (see www.vgoray.com) which is claimed to be unique in terms of the kind of highly original artistic (Lux Aeterna Theatre knowhow) content it has and its usefulness for groups of people in relaxation and concentration rooms at workplaces and rehabilitation, wellness and medical centres, etc. The technology includes a screen, comfortable seats, an interference laser projector with optical pad, multichannel surround sound and software, and is based on a smart combination of pleasant sound and coloured laser images displayed on a screen. This solution creates a relaxing and stress-relieving atmosphere. According to the VGoray team, immersion in such an exclusive restorative environment allows groups of people to disconnect from the stresses and strains of daily life and to experience psychological and mental relaxation and a more balanced state of mind, which is in harmony with a healthy body.
The pilot project was divided into two stages which covered the creation of the restorative audio-visual environment, and the small-scale empirical study. Focusing primarily on the aims of the study, it was carried out also with an attempt to avoid an inadequately designed methodology and to provide a chance for adjustments before large-scale quantitative research takes place. The study was exploratory in nature, seeking to understand and interpret the perceptions of the research phenomenon. This was a primary guideline in the choice of methodological approach. Interviews with a well-structured questionnaire using the Perceived Restorativeness Scale (PRS) and face-to-face semi-structured interviews were selected as primary data collection methods.
Two sets of interviews were conducted with 17 participants to provide an initial understanding of how they perceived and made sense of things that were happening in the course of three experiments or audio-visual sessions in March–April 2018. The audio-visual sessions were scheduled to take place three times a week at the end of the working day and to last approximately 15 minutes each. Each participant took part in a total of three sessions having experienced three different dynamic visual contents with audio compositions.
Well-structured interviews using Perceived Restorativeness Scale (PRS)
To measure the extent to which the created environment of the first audio-visual session had restorative qualities and was perceived as restorative by participants, the PRS (Hartig et al., 1997) was chosen. For that purpose, the statements of the scale were translated into the Finnish language. After the first session, participants were asked to indicate on the 7-point scale the extent to which the given statements on the PRS described their experience during the session (0 = Not at all; 6 = Completely) and to circle only one number on the rating scale beside each statement. The questionnaire was completed simultaneously by all participants. Several requests for clarifications were expressed by respondents to ensure that they had interpreted the meaning of each PRS statement correctly. This clearly highlighted the complexity of the scale statements.
In total, the 26 items of the scale measured an individual’s perception of four restorative factors assumed to be present in the given environment. These factors are physical and psychological: “being away”, “fascination”, “coherence” and “compatibility” based on the Attention Restoration Theory (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989). Due to the relatively low number of participants, the measure of restorative qualities of the created environment was not completely possible to conduct quantitatively, though the survey research method was applied. Thus, the PRS statements were evaluated with a qualitative methodological approach, utilising also the collected quantifiable data, which provided more abundant details that facilitated a deeper understanding of respondents’ personal perceptions about the study question. According to Miles and Huberman (1994), “we have to face the fact that numbers and words are both needed if we are to understand the world” (p. 40).
At the end of the last session, all participants were interviewed. Interviewing is the most advantageous method for understanding the beliefs, values and behaviour of individuals (Rubin & Rubin, 2005) and is the most commonly used method of data collection in qualitative research (King & Horrocks, 2010). Therefore, compact semi-structured interviews were conducted with the aim to provide participants with the opportunity to describe freely their experience and perceptions regarding the audio-visual environment with the VGoray System. A particular emphasis was placed on uncovering those physical conditions and contents of audio-visual sessions that were perceived as supporting participants’ willingness to use the created restorative environment in the future.
A guide designed for semi-structured interviews consisted of two sets of questions. The first set covered questions with given options related to physical conditions for future participation, and the participants were asked to elaborate their point of view: Would you like to attend the VGoray audio-visual sessions for a restorative experience in the future? What is the optimal duration of a session for you? What is the optimal frequency for you? What is the optimal session schedule for you? The questions of the second set focused on the experiences of the chosen audio-visual contents for the sessions: Did you notice different influences from different contents or dynamic visual and audio compositions (Please elaborate your point of view)? Did it matter to you that the contents – dynamic visual and audio compositions – varied weekly (Please elaborate your point of view)? What kind of influences did you experience during these sessions?
A descriptive thematic analysis (Braun et al., 2015) was employed in analysing the data acquired from semi-structured interviews. Open-ended questions were collated, and the data comprising participants’ perceptions, views, and experiences were closely examined to inductively identify common themes by following guidelines of thematic analysis.
To participate in the small-scale study, members of HAMK’s staff were invited through the Yammer internal communication system and email. They were offered the opportunity to try a new way to relax and to take part in an experiment testing innovative technology that is the result of a long-term collaboration between Lux Aeterna Theater (Budapest) and ITMO University (St. Petersburg, Russia). Personalised email invitations were sent to randomly selected potential participants representing teaching and other staff of HAMK. Personalised email invitations produced a higher response rate in comparison with the advertisement in Yammer. The participants, who voluntarily enrolled for the experiments, consisted of 15 females and 2 males. The majority of participants were highly educated and three of them had a Doctoral degree. They were also very experienced, with an average of 26.9 working years and 16.1 years of service at HAMK. Participants were divided into three focus groups on a voluntary basis considering the most suitable day of the week to participate in the experiments, i.e. the audio-visual sessions. An attempt was made to ensure that all participants attend the session once a week on the same day of the week for three weeks.
Pilot project results
This section presents the results following the project’s aims and two implementation stages: creating the restorative audio-visual environment; and conducting the small-scale empirical study.
First stage: Creating the audio-visual restorative environment
The VGoray equipment was placed in the premises of the HAMK School of Wellbeing. For the creation of the restorative audio-visual environment with the VGoray System, a bright and quiet classroom with white walls was chosen. Ten comfortable armchairs were brought into this classroom, the goal being to make the space as comfortable as possible for the participants during audio-visual sessions. It was also necessary to have total darkness in the classroom. These are very essential components supplementing the VGoray System in creating the audio-visual restorative environment.
The VGoray System consisted of a VGoray interference laser projector as well as multichannel sound and software. The dynamic visual content was generated using a laser projector to pass laser radiation through a liquid optical medium and optical elements, placed on a movable platform. The content, comprising complex dynamic shapes or images in four different colours, was projected onto a white wall, accompanied by a calm and pleasant audio composition. Thus, the creation of the audio-visual restorative environment took place during three sessions, which consisted of three different contents or dynamic audio and visual compositions.
Thus, employing the VGoray technology solution, the audio-visual restorative environment for use in the workplace was created, and audio-visual sessions were designed and organised according to the project plan. Figure 1 consists of two single images from two different audio-visual sessions at the premises of the HAMK School of Wellbeing.
Second stage: The small-scale empirical study
This section presents the results obtained from the data analyses and is structured to demonstrate first the results based on interviews with a well-structured questionnaire, using the Perceived Restorativeness Scale (PRS), followed by the discussion of results derived from the face-to-face semi-structured interviews.
The 26 items or statements of the PRS – characteristics of the restorative environment – were perceived by experiment participants of the first audio-visual session as follows:
“Being away” restorative factor
(1) The first PRS statement “Being here is an escape experience” was perceived as applying to the experience of all participants to some extent. Only one person responded “not at all” and a quarter of respondents perceived it as describing their experience very much.
(2) Regarding the statement “Spending time here gives me a break from my day-to-day routine”, half of the respondents indicated that it applied “completely” to their experience, a third expressed that it applied very much; and no one stated that “not at all” applied to their experience.
(3) More than half of participants responded to the statement “It is a place to get away from it all” applied to their experience very much and only one responded – “not at all”.
(4) The statement, “Being here helps me to relax my focus on getting things done” reflected the experience of all participants to a varying extent, approximately half of the participants said it described their experience very much and one – “completely”, with the remainder of participants giving a response further down the scale.
(5) The statement “Coming here helps me to get relief from unwanted demands on my attention” was experienced to a certain extent by all participants, with a quarter stating it described their experience “completely”.
“Fascination” restorative factor
(6) All respondents indicated having experienced to a great extent the following: “This place has fascinating qualities”, and a third of them agreeing “completely” with the statement.
(7) The statement “My attention is drawn to many interesting things” was perceived as applying to the experience of more than half of the participants very much, and approximately a quarter of respondents agreed “completely” with the statement.
(8) All participants responded, “very much” to the statement “I want to get to know this place better” with over a third saying the statement matched their opinion “completely”.
(9) Regarding the statement “There is much to explore and discover here”, participants perceived it as matching their experience to a varying extent, and a third of them perceived it to match their opinion very much.
(10) The perception of the statement “I want to spend more time looking at the surroundings” was that it matched opinions to a certain extent.
(11) The response to the statement “This place is boring” was “not at all” for more than half respondents. The rest of them indicated they experienced this a varying extent.
(12) The statement “The setting is fascinating” was perceived as matching the experience of participants to a certain extent, with a third of them saying it described their experience “completely”, and no one indicated “not at all”.
(13) The vast majority of participants responded, “not at all” to the statement “There is nothing worth looking at here”.
“Coherence” restorative factor
(14) A third of participants responded, “not at all” to the statement “There is too much going on”, the rest perceiving it as describing their experience to a varying extent, with only one person perceiving it as “completely” describing their experience.
(15) More than half of participants responded, “not at all” to the statement “It is a confusing place”, with the rest of them perceiving it as slightly describing their experience.
(16) There was not one participant who perceived the statement “There is a great deal of distraction” as “completely” describing their experience, and only a third of them perceived it as slightly describing their experience.
(17) The vast majority responded, “not at all” to the statement “It is chaotic here”, and a third indicated that it described their experience to rather a small extent.
“Compatibility” restorative factor
(18) The vast majority of participants perceived the statement “Being here suits my personality” as describing their experience to a varying extent, among them more than a third perceived it as describing their experience “completely”, and only one person responded, “not at all”.
(19) The statement “I can do the things I like here” was perceived as describing the experience very much and more than half of the participants said it described it “completely”. There were no “not at all” responses.
(20) All participants perceived that “I have a sense that I belong here” to a varying extent, and no one responded, “not at all”.
(21) Several participants perceived “I can find ways to enjoy myself here” as describing their experience very much and there were no “not at all” responses.
(22) All participants perceived that the statement “I have a sense of oneness with this setting” as describing their experience to a varying extent by all participants, and no one responded, “not at all”.
(23) The majority of respondents responded, “not at all” or agreed slightly with the statement, “There are landmarks to help me get around”, and only one person perceived it as “completely” describing their experience.
(24) There was no one who indicated “not at all” to the statement “I could easily form a mental map of this place” and almost half of them perceived this as describing their experience very much or “completely”.
(25) Regarding the statement, “It is easy to find my way around here”, only one participant responded, “not at all”; everyone else perceived it to describe their experience very much or “completely”.
(26) Only one person stated, “not at all” to the statement “It is easy to see how things are organised”, with more than half of participants perceiving it as describing their experience very much or “completely”.
Face-to-face semi-structured interviews
As a result of thematic analysis, three key themes were discovered inductively from the data collected during the face-to-face semi-structured interviews: (i) the willingness to use the VGoray technology solution and physical conditions; (ii) the content of the sessions; and (iii) the relaxation effect.
Willingness to use the VGoray technology solution and physical conditions
The analysis results show that all the participants in the three audio-visual sessions were willing to use the VGoray technology solution to relax at their workplace, but a quarter of them only if the improvements they proposed were implemented. Suggestions for improvements were mainly regarding the wall on which the dynamic visual content was projected, for example: “If I participated in future sessions, I would definitely want it to be plain without any sockets or wires.”
More than half of respondents perceived their participation in these sessions as a positive experience. As for the length of the sessions, the majority of respondents stated that VGoray audio-visual sessions should be 15 minutes or less and the rest with approximately a third of them expressing the wish to have sessions of 30 minutes or less. Regarding session frequency, more than half of respondents would like to attend the sessions once a week, and others – a quarter of them – were split with half preferring sessions once a day and the other half once a month. Considering the timing of the sessions, the vast majority of respondents felt that the most suitable time is at the end of the working day and at lunch time. For the rest, the best time would be during coffee breaks. Some respondents representing teaching staff considered that the chosen classroom was not suitable for this kind of experiment due to distractions caused by this pilot project to the normal lecturing activities for three weeks. They suggested having a special room for relaxation purposes.
The contents of the sessions
The contents or dynamic audio and visual compositions used in the sessions varied weekly, and this variability was generally considered as positive. The majority of the respondents felt that the contents of audio-visual sessions were very interesting and pleasant, and some of them indicated that the sessions provided a good break to their working day.
Regarding the contents of the sessions specifically, the first two were not perceived as significantly different, while critical comments were made about the content of the last session, though mainly in relation to the audio composition or music. Thus, several respondents found the audio composition of the last session content not completely suitable because of the singing soloist. The song was perceived as slightly disturbing. Listening to the lyrics of the song captured the attention of the respondents, and in this way, had an unfavourable effect on their experience of relaxation.
“If the background music is accompanied by a singing soloist, the words should not attract too much attention.”
“The music of the last session was a song, in which the lyrics could be well distinguished. They drew my attention and were thus distracting to me.”
The relaxation effect
Regarding the influences experienced during the audio-visual sessions, more than half of the respondents felt relaxed to some extent, and others could not say anything, wondering how quickly the effect would be felt. However, more than half of them stated that these sessions enabled them to get away from thinking about their work tasks or even forget them for a while.
“The dynamic shapes during the sessions were suitably hypnotic, which made me forget everything else for a moment.”
“I felt weightless.”
The findings are likely to represent the relaxing effect of the audio-visual sessions and to provide some evidence of producing relief from stress at the workplace.
The results of the pilot project demonstrated that the VGoray System technology solution may have great potential in creating the audio-visual restorative environment. The small-scale empirical study shed more light on people’s experiences and perceptions of the restorativeness of the audio-visual environment created using the VGoray System and the conditions favourable for utilising this environment at the workplace.
Thus, the findings of the first stage of the empirical study brought notable knowledge about the restorative characteristics of the created audio-visual environment. However, the findings also revealed the necessity of the adaptation of the Perceived Restorativeness Scale (PRS) to the environment with the dynamic audio-visual content, which could be provided by digital audio-visual devices, “mind machines” and the VGoray System in particular.
For example, several PRS statements related to the “compatibility” restorative factor cannot be applied without appropriate adjustments due to the specific features of the environment. These statements are as follows: “There are landmarks to help me get around”, “It is easy to find my way around here” and “I could easily form a mental map of this place”. The statements generated confusion among the participants evaluating the restorativeness of the environment, which is created in a totally dark place, and therefore, resulted in slight contradictions in their perceptions. Additionally, some minor contradictions in the perceptions of “being away” restorative factor were revealed, for example, in the evaluation of the following statements: “Being here is an escape experience”, “It is a place to get away from it all” and “Being here helps me to relax my focus on getting things done”. These contradictions could be explained by participants misunderstanding the meaning of the statements. Difficulties in understanding were expressed by several participants having completed the PRS questionnaire. This highlighted the importance of giving a detailed briefing to respondents before the evaluation of restorative characteristics or PRS statements. A good understanding of the statements would be a proper starting point for using the PRS scale.
As for the second part of the study, the findings of face-to-face semi-structured interviews increased the awareness of the conditions favourable for the creation of the dynamic audio-visual restorative environment at the workplace. Moreover, some explanations for several PRS statements were found. For example, positive perceptions regarding “There is a great deal of distraction” statement of the “coherence” restorative factor were explained by the improvements of physical conditions suggested by participants during interviews. In addition, the knowledge about which contents of audio-visual sessions positively influenced the experience of participants and had a relaxing effect is very valuable for further developing audio-visual VGoray technology solution.
However, it is also important to acknowledge that there are methodological limitations which, on the other hand, open new horizons for future research. Thus, caution should be taken when considering the generalisability of the findings due to the following key factors. First, the number of participants in the experiments was not sufficiently representative and second, the participants did not represent the general working population as they were professionals from the same organisation in the education field, and third, self-selection bias arose in several cases in which individuals selected themselves into a group of participants. Further investigations are needed with a larger number of participants employing a quantitative approach and allowing the triangulation of findings. It would also be of particular interest to extend the scope of research to other business fields and maybe those industry sectors, where a higher level of work-related stress could be anticipated. In order to obtain additional insights into the research questions, a longer period for experiments should also be considered in future research.
The pilot project reported in this paper implemented as part of a larger project entitled “Get inspired at work!”, which was coordinated by the HAMK Smart Research Unit (Häme University of Applied Sciences, HAMK) and financed by the European Social Fund (ESF) through the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment of Häme (ELY). The main objective of the “Get inspired at work!” project was to inspire and motivate people aiming for improvements in productivity and working ambiance in the small enterprises in the Kanta-Häme region participating in the project. Special thanks go to the VGoray team members: Daniel A. Freedmen, director, colourist, audio-visual designer and Nikolai Matveyev, optoelectronic scientist, researcher, who played a central role in the pilot project implementation. Warm thanks also go to the staff and six student nurses from the HAMK School of Wellbeing for their active participation in all the main project stages and related activities: creating the audio-visual restorative environment, organising audio-visual sessions, collecting and analysing data obtained from the sessions.
Marina Weck obtained her Doctor of Science (Technology) from Aalto University, Finland. She is Principal Research Scientist at the HAMK Smart Research Unit, Häme University of Applied Sciences, Finland. Her current research interests include trust in digital environment and technology, technology acceptance and uptake, the age-friendly smart living environment, and the sharing economy.
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