According to economists, 2016 marked the largest dip in employee productivity since 1979. And of course, when productivity drags, profits usually feel the impact. You can’t do too much about the US economy at large, but you can improve your own work—and give your employees a break, too—by designing a workplace that promotes productivity. Our surroundings can actually have a huge impact on whether or not we feel like working, so getting them on the up and up is pivotal. Here’s how to do it.
It’s a common belief that workspaces need to be, well, focused on work. But actually there’s a wide range of research showing that productivity and happiness and deeply intertwined. In one study by the University of Warwick, participants were prompted with happy events, like attending a free comedy show, and negative events, like discussing personal loss. Then both groups were tested for their productivity. The “happy group” wound up being around 12 percent more motivated than the negative group.
In the real world, the results have been even more dramatic. When Google began to focus on employee support—rather than rewarding good work through purely financial means—productivity skyrocketed by 37 percent. These findings echo the appeal of Marie Kondo’s now-famous book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo argues that homeowners should declutter by keeping only those items that “spark joy.” While there are obviously some things you can’t toss out of your office, no matter how much you wish you could (looking at you, office telephone), it’s certainly worth taking an inventory of those items you can control. Chairs, artwork, desk decor, and even organizational objects should all speak to you personally. When you feel comfortable in your space, your productivity may rise in turn.
Similarly, we also tend to get another thing wrong about office decor: many workspaces are totally walled off from the realms of the natural world. A study helmed by the University of Melbourne showed that even images of natural subjects can have a positive effect on productivity. Participants were told to hit random keystrokes on a keyboard and, in between, shown pictures of either concrete buildings or green spaces. The subjects that got the green improved their responses by 6 percent, while the opposite was true for the city slickers—productivity fell 8 percent for these folks.
Access to natural light is probably one of the more important aspects of creating a workplace that promotes productivity. This can rebalance natural circadian rhythms that get our minds pumping in the morning. Bonus points if you have a window that looks out on greenery or another natural scene. No windows in your workspace? You can mimic some of the effects yourself using cool blue or warm yellow light. Cool light will stimulate and energize, while a warmer light is better for late afternoon and evening, when the workday is winding down. Similarly, you can use a digital display that cycles through evocative natural images to get a little green in your workday, as well.
People usually fall into two categories: the luddites and the tech geeks. But in a workplace that promotes productivity, you need to be willing to embrace both viewpoints. Your space doesn’t just need a window and some nice lighting—you also need to stay aware of cutting edge technology that can make your job easier.
Sometimes that may mean thinking outside the cubicle. For instance, internal branding through consistent social media messaging and even workplace digital signage can help you keep your team on the same page. Digital signage is also beneficial if you see clients or visitors in your office; you can use it to give customers an overview of your services while they wait.
In fact, this philosophy extends to internal communications as well. Digital signs are a great way to get employees on the same page and relate information employees need to know—like quarterly numbers or new policies. And if you’ve gamified your team’s work, a digital display offers an opportunity to show your “high scores.” In one marketing study, a massive ninety-one percent of employees who participated in gamified work found it to be more motivating, so that’s definitely one way to ratchet up productivity!
When there’s a lot on your plate, your tendency may be to buckle down and just power through—but in reality, these extended working sprints may harm productivity. Research confirms that our mind performs best when we have an opportunity to take breaks.
Build this philosophy into your workspace setup. Give yourself a spot apart from your computer or desk that’s just for breaks. Populate this area with plants, toys, books—things you can use to stimulate your mind and refocus your efforts. This is particularly important if your role involves creative tasks or problem solving. Then, practice what you design. Force yourself to step aside if you must so you can see your work from a different angle.
Having a workplace that promotes productivity comes down to mastering your own psychology—so it doesn’t hurt to listen to your own instincts, either. After all, you shouldn’t feel like a guest in your own workspace.
Bryn Huntpalmer lives in Austin, Texas where she currently works as editor-in-chief of Modernize with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.