Feng Shui and Collaborative Workspaces

April 25, 2022 | By: Tracy Miller, FSIA

The ancient Chinese art and science of feng shui has a lot to offer modern workplace design. Whether it’s increasing retention rates, offering attractive and functional spaces that employees enjoy, or simply keeping up with modern trends, tapping into feng shui can add to everybody’s success. With today’s tendency toward collaborative workspaces, it is more important than ever to make sure that employees can function at peak productivity while sharing an open environment. By using the tried-and-true theories of feng shui, building management professionals can improve outcomes for their tenants.

Collaborative Workspace

The concept of collaborative workspace was created out of a need for increased employee interaction, which in turn allowed for a more frequent and free exchange of ideas. Theoretically, in a collaborative space, everyone has open access to everyone else – thereby creating opportunities for impromptu brainstorming sessions. This is an ideal situation for companies that thrive on creativity. It’s hard to imagine Google or Facebook having an office full of cubicles and private offices where no one sees anyone else except on a lunch break.

It’s also important to remember, however, that not ALL companies thrive on this kind of energy. In an organization that values competition and rewards people for such, people tend to get protective of their ideas and may not want to share. In this case, a collaborative workspace might be seen as a hindrance to progress. So, the first step in a feng shui consultation would be to make sure that the clients or tenants have the type of corporate culture that benefits from this type of open arrangement. Only then can one turn their attention to the feng shui of the space itself.

Yin and Yang

First, let’s take a brief look at what feng shui is. Feng shui (pronounced “fung shway” and literally meaning Wind and Water) is the ancient Chinese art and science that studies the relationship between the environment and human life. The underlying principles of feng shui are the same ones that Chinese philosophy and medicine follow: the balance of Yin and Yang, the distribution of the Five Elements (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal) and the movement of energy or “chi.” Having evolved over thousands of years, feng shui has managed to change with the times because its theories have been adaptable as people have moved from rural environments into more urban ones. In today’s environment, we can use these ancient theories of energy precisely because the laws of Nature hold true no matter what time period we find ourselves in.

Yin and Yang are the basic building blocks of feng shui energy theory. They represent the ancestors, or you might say the parents, of the entire universe of energy. Yin is characterized as quiet, soft, dark and cool. It is affiliated with winter, water, shadow and the Moon. When Yin is in balance, it relaxes us; when too much is present, it can literally drown us.

On the other side of the coin is Yang. Yang energy is characterized as warm, bright, active, noisy and is symbolized by the Sun. Fire is the highest form of Yang energy. It lifts us up and moves us; and yet if Yang is over-represented, it can burn us out. Balancing Yin and Yang in a space is a major goal in a successful feng shui design. But how do we do that? The answer is that we simply use the concept of the five “children” of Yin and Yang called the Five Elements—Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal. Let us take a closer look.

The Five Elements

Each of the five elements can be categorized according to their energy nature. Two of the elements are Yin—Water and Metal; two are Yang—Fire and Wood; and one is neutral—Earth. Once we understand what types of materials, direction of movement and inherent qualities that each of these five have, we can start the process of choosing the proportion of each that we want to bring in to balance our space. You can see in the chart above how each of the elements both creates and destroys one of the others.

Water energy is the most Yin element and is creative to Wood. It is also the destroyer of Fire. Its energy movement is downward (just as water seeks the lowest level). The associated colors of Water are blue and black; the representative material is any liquid, glass or object that has a feeling of “flow.” With Water, the flow of ideas increases. The affiliated shape is asymmetrical or curvilinear.

We use Water elements in a space when we need to calm or cool things down. For example, we might use the color blue for the walls if there were an overabundance of sunlight (i.e., Fire energy) coming in through large windows making a space feel too hot. This would be known as “Water destroying Fire.”

Next, let’s look at Wood (or “Tree”). Wood energy is Yang and moves outward from center. It’s all about growth and expansion. Tall columns/vertical rectangles, live plants and the color green all represent Wood. Wood feeds Fire energy and destroys Earth. Use Wood where a feeling of spaciousness is required. Here’s one way to do it with wallpaper–great for spaces that don’t have any windows to the outside.

The Fire element represents the height of Yang and upward movement. Fire creates Earth and destroys Metal. Symbols are natural sunlight or bright indoor lighting, animal prints, and hot colors like neon, red and orange. The shape is triangular or pyramidal. Any actual fire objects are included in this category such as fireplaces, candles and heaters. We must use caution with the Fire element, however, as it can burn itself out if overdone. Small amounts are all that is needed to give a spark to a space.

Earth energy is neutral and stable. It grounds us and invokes a sense of strength, support and balance. Low, flat and square items represent Earth, as do pairs of things. Representative colors are brown, yellow and tan. Earth energy makes us feel safe. Brick walls are strong Earth symbols and feel protective. Earth creates Metal and destroys Water.

Finally, Metal energy is Yin and its movement is inward toward the center. Symbols of Metal include any round or arched shape which focuses us toward the middle. The colors are silver, iron, pewter and gold, which help pull focus and denote precision. The use of metal machinery is an effective way to incorporate this element.

Balancing Your Space

As a general guide, it’s best if all five elements are represented in a design – just not all in the same proportions. For example, in an office with far too much heat from sunlight (Fire), you certainly would pull in Water elements to destroy that Fire energy, but you also need touches of Earth, Metal and Wood to complete the scene and create a harmonious balance. Typically, choosing two of the elements to stand out as the major theme works best, then you would use the other three to come in as accents.

Feng shui is a very helpful tool to use in creating a collaborative workspace that clients or tenants will enjoy. By using the theories of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements, one can identify an environment’s energy patterns and know what materials, colors and/or shapes to choose to complete the picture. A professional feng shui consultant can help you get started using this powerful practice.

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