How productive are you at work? Usually, when conversations on this topic arise they are framed around time management, which, to be fair, is often deemed the largest factor of productivity. But while it’s important, it’s not the only element at play when it comes to running productive offices. One aspect that’s being covered in increasing depth is how the workspace impacts productivity. There has been a lot of coverage in recent years about how open offices, once the glorious antidote to cubicles, actually seem to reduce productivity. There’s also been some research recently that co-working spaces, now all the rage, are making people more productive.
Now there are some obvious components to think about in this discussion: Notably, how it varies by person. You would assume that an orderly, arranged desk is going to make someone more productive, right? In most cases, yes. But some people thrive on chaos — you’ve probably all worked with the person whose desk looks like a hurricane hit it, but they know where everything is and never seem to miss a beat or deadline. People are different, and their workspace will reflect what works for their personality and approach to work. But when thinking beyond the individual, how do you set up a productive workspace that will work for the majority of your staff? People are in this space for at least 8 hours every workday so taking the time to think about your office environment can have a large impact on the quality of work being done within it. So when it comes to workplace productivity, are there any quick wins you can put in place to give your office space a boost?
Start with color
Color maybe doesn’t seem like a huge deal on the surface, but in-office employees will be surrounded by those colors each and every day (this advice can also work for remote, work-from-home employees in terms of how they organize their home offices). Angela Wright is a “color psychologist,” and in this article, she notes:
“The four psychological primaries are: red, blue, yellow, and green. And they affect the body (red), the mind (blue), the emotions, the ego, and self-confidence (yellow), and the essential balance between the mind, the body, and the emotions (green).”
Color changes in offices have been shown to increase productivity. One approach to a new space would be to gather a few different options — similar to color swatches people use for their homes — and bring in a representative sample of the office to vote. Or, put the color options online and have everyone vote on them. Get employee input so everyone feels involved and then update those walls. Sometimes a fresh coat of paint is all it takes to brighten everyone’s day.
Encourage walking where you can
You’ve probably heard sitting is the new smoking; while that’s not exactly true, extended sitting isn’t good for you in many ways. Whether you can “encourage walking” is somewhat a function of how much space you have — companies that can afford a huge campus can obviously do this, whereas smaller companies cannot in terms of the actual office size. But if you have a smaller office, consider something like a Step Challenge or otherwise Fitness Challenge to get your employees moving throughout the day. Also consider Walking Lunches periodically, or a Friday late morning group walk/run activity. It’s good for the brain to detach from work as well, even if just for 15-20 minutes. Standing desks or walking desks are also a good way to get your employees up and about. And don’t worry, not everyone needs one. Putting up one or two in a shared space can allow employees to rotate throughout their day and work in different spaces which boost productivity along with the walking.
Have more employees face doors
Did you know that having your back to a door creates a natural level of moderate to high stress in a human because they don’t know what’s coming? We actually worked with someone at a previous job who had his back to the main door and put a mirror extension on his computer so that he could see everyone entering; he felt it made him significantly more productive. If you can design the flow of an office so that most people can generally see who is entering and exiting the main pathways, it will reduce natural stress levels in your employees.
When plants are placed around the office — and live plants, mind you, not fake ones — there’s a statistical reduction in sick days. Peace lilies, bamboo, and aloe are some of the easiest-to-care-for indoor plants you can place around an office and also have some added health benefits. And it’s not just the act of having a plant on your desk but it’s also about caring for it. When employees have a non-work related task to think about, it helps give them mental breaks which makes them more productive when they return to their task. So go to your local garden store and stock up on some hardy plants. They might do everyone a world of good.
Natural light sources
One of our colleagues worked at a place once that had five conference rooms, and four of them had no natural light coming into them at all. The fifth one, i.e. the one that did, was often booked about six weeks in advance at all times. People want to have light sources and not feel confined or claustrophobic — so, again, relative to your space and what you can afford, try to make sure any group meeting spaces have natural light sources (as well as a good majority of employee desks). If you are confined to a space without windows, think about investing in some full-spectrum light bulbs that will simulate natural light. Remember Milton in the basement in Office Space? Don’t be that company.
Dream board or shout-out board
You can display a dream board in your office with company and employee goals listed for the year, quarter, etc. You can also easily make a shout-out board. Get some sheet paper, roll it out, cut it, and tape it to a wall at a length of about six feet across. Put stacks of Post-It Notes and two-three markers on a table nearby. Encourage people to grab a Post-It, write a quick shoutout — “Lance, thanks for the help on the Snyder account!” — and stick it to the sheet paper. Before long, you’ll have a sea of Post-It Notes showing the love between teammates, and that will bolster both serotonin and productivity.
Again, some may thrive on clutter — and if so, allow that to be their personal workspace. Communal workspaces should be free of clutter and organized so that employees can sit comfortably for meetings, find supplies, find books, or whatever else. Keep it clean and tight in the shared spaces; that’s a better assumption to make than messy for all.
Productivity is a series of dozens of inputs: individual time management, individual communication preferences, how managers assign work, how much work the organization has coming in at that moment, and much more. Workspace is just one component — but remember, we spend thousands of dollars (if not much more) on making sure our homes are organized the way we want, and we should dedicate that much attention to our workspaces. We spend a good amount of time there too, and everyone should have a chance at maximum productivity and wellness while in their work environment.