When we look for ways to boost productivity, we often think of tools — automation technologies to save time, concentration strategies like the Pomodoro Technique, and so on. But more recently, research has shown that office design has a huge impact on how much gets done.
1. Stop thinking “open” and start thinking “variety”
Turns out the open office idea isn’t all it was cracked up to be. In fact, open offices are associated with lower employee satisfaction and less productivity, higher levels of stress and fatigue, and higher rates of absenteeism including more sick days. In other words, bad news all around.
To combat this problem, companies are shifting more toward variety. Workplace strategy expert Ron Friedman recommends identifying the types of work activities your employees perform and then designing spaces for those activities. For example, he suggests having personal spaces that employees can customize to fit their preferences, social spaces for collaboration and bonding, and “thinking rooms” for when individuals need some peace and quiet.
2. Improve the lighting
If you can’t see, you can’t work. Poor lighting causes eye strain, headaches, fatigue, stress, and a host of other problems, both physical and mental. Thus, one of the easiest things you can do to boost productivity is to improve the lighting in your office.
If possible, provide access to natural light — it’s bright, it makes people happy, and it’s free! It also increases productivity: a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that employees who sit near a window sleep better than those who don’t, and a good night’s sleep is essential for a good day’s work. If it isn’t feasible to put everyone near a window, install indirect lighting, which is still bright and doesn’t cause eye strain. Check out these photos to see what a difference indirect lighting makes.
3. Raise the ceilings
If you are designing a new office or are ready to renovate, consider raising your ceilings. Studies have found that people prefer ceilings that are 10 feet high and that higher ceilings are associated with thinking more freely. Would freer, more creative thinking benefit your business? Thought so!
4. Paint the walls — but not white
Color has a major effect on our emotions and our productivity, and when it comes to worker effectiveness, white is one of the worst. Similar to providing a variety of workspaces, provide a variety of color environments tailored for different activities. Research links green to creativity and blue to productivity. Red appears to be good for detail orientation, but it can also reduce analytical thinking. And no one likes yellow. See here and here for good roundups of how to use color psychology in your office.
5. Control the noise level
Noise is hands-down the most common office complaint, especially in open offices. Research has linked noise to lower productivity, more illness, more stress, lower job satisfaction and morale, and other negative effects.
Sound masking systems get rid of unwanted sounds by distributing noise that is engineered to cover up speech. If you can’t install a full sound masking system, at the very least provide noise-canceling headphones.