6 Science-Backed Ways to Make Your Office More Productive
In any company, no matter how large or small, time is money. Mastering the art of getting things done (a.k.a., productivity) thus proves very important to creating and maintaining success.
In this context, both the physical environment and culture of a business play a role in how motivated and effective its people feel at work, for better or worse. Luckily, science is no stranger to this important concept. The areas below offer a few research-backed ways to make a positive impact on your workplace’s productivity.
Introduce some greenery.
While most jobs unfortunately can’t be conducted on a beachfront veranda, adding a touch of nature to an indoor office space offers some benefits. One study described by the American Psychological Association found that workers in spaces with plants showed a 15 percent higher productivity compared to those in plainer surroundings. The researchers’ premise was that objects like plants, photos and other mementos in workspaces encourage more psychological engagement than do ultra-modern, sterile spaces.
Another benefit? Live plants also promote healthier indoor air, which research has shown has some effect on cognitive functioning in the workplace. NASA researchers, for instance, found that plants like Gerbera daisies, mums, Mass Canes and other plants removed significant amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air, which come from plastics, paint, cleaning materials, and furniture, all typically found in offices.
Creating motivation and making your team feel appreciated is a critical part of long-term productivity. A study reported in the Harvard Business Review found that workplaces with “positive and virtuous practices” such as mutual care, support and kindness — and workplaces that inspire and emphasize the meaningfulness of work, as well as emphasize respect and gratitude — enjoyed greater productivity, performance and customer satisfaction.
The study’s authors suggested that these positive practices create more loyal, happy and creative employees with more resistance to negative events and stress.
One way to foster these values would be to encourage your team to keep gratitude journals. What does that involve? Writing down a couple of sentences about what you are currently grateful for a couple times a week. Not only can this practice improve productivity by increasing happiness, but it’s even been linked with better health. Even easier? Simply thank your team for their work.
Create some privacy.
Open, collaborative office spaces have been trending for some time, and they do have perks. For example, they encourage communication and brainstorming during meetings and in creative environments. However, recent studies indicate they might not be best for productivity overall.
In a 2013 study by Gensler, 53 percent of workers surveyed mentioned feeling disturbed by others’ activities when they themselves were trying to focus; 69 percent were unhappy with noise levels at work. Open office plans also correlated with increased sick days according to another study reported in a Scandinavian journal on work environments.
This is important because the amount of solo work people do (particularly knowledge workers) continues to increase. And, the poorer employees’ focus, the less effective they were found to be in areas like collaboration and learning, and the less likely they were to be satisfied with their jobs.
Workplaces with a balance between individual focus and collaboration were found to be more innovative, creative and encouraging according to workers surveyed by Gensler.
So, how do you make communication fluid while still enabling private focus? When floor plans allow, offering people private workspaces or rooms so they can concentrate, as opposed to bullpen-only layouts, encourages balance. Other solutions include rules that headphones means “do not disturb” and “quiet hours.”
Let the sun shine in.
Harsh fluorescent office lighting is no friend to eyes. In fact, it’s been associated with UV-related eye disease, sleep-stealing melatonin suppression, and the exacerbation of epilepsy, lupus and certain skin conditions. Conversely, significant links have been found between daytime sunlight exposure and productivity. The reason: Sunlight affects circadian rhythms and vitamin D production, which ties into alertness and motivation.
But, not every workspace offers practical access to windows or frequent daylight. What to do when not everyone can sit by a window? One study from a German journal found that lighting conditions simulating daylight improved alertness and mood compared to electric lighting. So, switching to softer, more-natural-toned bulbs instead of halogens is one idea.
LED lighting also may be more ideal for alertness and performance compared to fluorescent bulbs. A Cornell study found that lensed-uplit conditions were preferable to the more common overhead downlighting as well, resulting in less eye strain and higher productivity. Taking breaks outdoors when possible also provides sunshine boosts during the day.
Keep temperatures moderate.
Temperatures play a biological role in circadian rhythms, which affect alertness and tiredness. They can also be a divisive office topic: A 2015 Career Builder survey found that 23 percent of people surveyed complained of a too cold workplace, while 25 percent felt too hot. Getting it right is important, as science shows that office environments that are either too warm or cold environments impact people’s productivity and accuracy. In the Career Builder survey, 53 percent of respondents said they were less productive when they were too cold at work, while 72 percent said their work suffered when they were too hot.
So, what’s ideal? One Cornell study found that increasing temperatures from 68 F to 77 F. reduced errors and improved productivity. Another review of several other studies found that productivity suffered 2 percent for every degree over 77 F., suggesting that optimal conditions are in the 70-to-77 F. range.
Since it’s often easier to add a clothing layer than take one off at the office, it might be ideal to keep temperatures on the cooler end of the “ideal” range. Also, try chatting with your staff to get an idea of what makes them comfortable, since factors like windows and vent placement also play a role. If you don’t have control over the thermostat, desk-friendly space heaters and fans are another option for staffers’ personal comfort and productivity.
Take strategic breaks.
While you might think working long stretches is key to getting the most done, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Research actually finds that more short breaks ultimately result in greater productivity and accuracy, especially with repetitive work. For computer-based employees, frequent rest breaks also help reduce eye strain and physical discomfort
Desktime, a productivity-tracking program, analyzed user data and found that the most productive people using its tool worked “with purpose” for an average of 52 minutes straight followed by 17-minute breaks. Another method that’s been around for awhile is the Pomodoro technique, which involves focusing for 25 minutes followed by a five-minute break or, alternately, 50 minutes of work and a 10-minute break. Longer breaks are included after several cycles, which can be tracked manually or tracked using a variety of pre-programmed apps and timers.
During your breaks, try listening to music, or mediate, stretch, go for a walk outside, socialize, catch up on the news or your social media. Do whatever you need to do to clear out any mental distractions and to feel happy. Taking a well-timed power nap also offers some reprieve for afternoon fatigue and helps renew focus.
Just keep it short: ten to 20 minutes is considered ideal for harnessing the benefits of rest without inducing drowsiness or affecting night-time sleep.
Fine-tuning the details of both the physical and mental environments in a workplace can yield significant differences, with minimal investment. When people are happy, comfortable and clear-headed, there are fewer distractions to get in the way of goals and motivation.
What do you find keeps you most productive at work, or what has made the biggest difference in your workplace?