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Epidemic of lonely offices to be countered by coat stand

Lonely hybrid workers whose offices resemble a ‘ghost town’ will be welcomed back into the workplace by a coat stand which lights up to greet them.

Rhianna with her design
Rhianna Smith with her design

Epidemic of lonely offices to be countered by coat stand

Lonely hybrid workers whose offices resemble a ‘ghost town’ will be welcomed back into the workplace by a coat stand which lights up to greet them.

Created by Nottingham Trent University undergraduate Rhianna Smith, ‘Balance’ aims to help employers create a feeling of community at work and tempt their staff back into the office following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The product features microswitches which turn on light emitting diodes (LEDs) when a garment is placed on a hook as a way to greet them and signal to other employees that they have arrived.

Rhianna, 22, from Catford in London, said the design aims to encourage “a feeling of belonging”.

“I started looking at the workplace loneliness epidemic, and there’s evidently a lot of disconnection between businesses and their staff, and some offices can feel like a ghost town,” said Rhianna, who is studying BA Product Design.

“So I wanted to create something to make people feel more welcome in the office when they arrive. It’s nice to feel like you’re being greeted by something. It’s also a way of signalling who is in that day, and the more people to hang up their coat, the more lights come on.”


Rhianna wanted to explore design and wellbeing in the office while she was on a year-long work placement. She undertook a variety of observations in offices to look at how people interacted, and interviewed office managers and employees.

Research shows that employers are exploring how to make offices feel more homely as a way to encourage their staff back to the workplace following the abolition of social distancing rules.

A Government report shows that around one in five Brits work from home at least one day a week, while one in eight work from home exclusively. The same report also shows that remote and hybrid working can have both positive and negative impacts on workers’ health and wellbeing.

“Working from home can be isolating. When the office is empty, it makes you question what’s the point of coming in,” said Rhianna, who is studying in the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment.

“I personally like talking to people and socialising, and research shows how important it is to have friendships at work. Your colleagues can make you feel happy throughout the day.

“’Balance’ is intended to be a talking piece for staff and a way for employers to show they care about wellbeing, and that they want their staff to come into the office, but without pushing people.”

Made from mild steel, ‘Balance’ features five 2.6w LEDs and is painted in burnt orange to create a feeling of warmth and comfort while also allowing the design to stand out.

It has been on public exhibition for the 2023 Nottingham Trent University art and design Student Showcase, which is one of the largest displays of graduating art and design talent in the UK.

Paul Kennea, senior lecturer in Product Design at Nottingham Trent University, said: “Rhianna has shown how design can be used to help support people through social issues such as loneliness in the office.

“Her design demonstrates how a product as simple as a coat stand can be rethought and used to help influence human behaviour, and help contribute towards the rebirth of an office community.”

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    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    The Research Excellence Framework (2021) classed 83% of NTU’s research activity as either world-leading or internationally excellent. 86% of NTU’s research impact was assessed to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.

    NTU was awarded The Times and The Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2023 and ranked University of the Year in the Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2023. It was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards), University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is the 5th largest UK institution by student numbers, with approximately 40,000 students and more than 4,400 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 7,000 and an NTU community representing over 160 countries.

    Since 2000, NTU has invested £570 million in tools, technology, buildings and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2021 UCAS UG acceptance data). It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was the first UK university to sign the Social Mobility Pledge.

    NTU is ranked 2nd most sustainable university in the world in the 2022 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

Published on 6 June 2023
  • Category: Press office; School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment