How Your Office Space Can Be Designed To Improve Productivity

“From the size of their workloads to the amount of information they handle, people today are under unprecedented pressure”, said Beatriz Arantes, senior researcher with Steelcase. Add to that our ever-connected, 24/7 world, an expanding list of expectations, and the fact that the average employee sits up to 6 hours a day, and you’ve got a pressure cooker. In fact, stress costs companies a whopping $300 billion per year (globally) in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal and insurance costs.

“From the size of their workloads to the amount of information they handle, people today are under unprecedented pressure”
Beatriz Arantes

The good news is, you don’t have to break the bank to improve your work environment. Having a positive state of mind helps employees do their best work, Arantes said. And according to Liz Wilkes, Partner at Exubrancy, which provides wellness programs for corporations, small changes can make big differences in productivity and positivity. Here are seven tips for improving productivity:

1.) Let There Be Light

The importance of catching some rays cannot be overstated, said Wilkes. She cited research report after research report:

  • Natural light significantly increases energy, creativity and productivity, according to research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Workers exposed to natural lighting stayed on-task for 15% longer than their sun-deprived counterparts.
  • People who aren’t exposed to direct sunlight lose an average of 46 minutes of sleep at night, according to research by Northwestern University in Chicago. You don’t need to be Arianna Huffington to know the importance of a good night’s sleep and the consequences of sleep deprivation.

If your desk doesn't have a direct window view, make sure to take a walk during the day. You can also invest in a lamp that imitates natural light, suggest Wilkes. Research finds these lamps reduce seasonal depression, reduce fatigue and improve moods.

2.) A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

Creating an ergonomic environment now can reduce future physical problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome, backaches and neck pain that can lead to headaches, said Wilkes. For example, Steelcase’s Gesture chair is an ergonomically focused design that supports movement between devices and healthy postures when interacting with technology. Some ergonomic best practices from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Center your body in front of your monitor and keyboard. Sit up straight, keeping your thighs horizontal with your knees and at about the same level as your hips. Keep your forearms level or tilted up slightly.
  • Adjust the height of your task chair so that your feet rest comfortably on the floor and your knees are about level with your hips. If your chair doesn't offer lumbar support, place a cushion between the curve in your lower back and the back of the chair.
  • If you frequently talk on the phone and type or write at the same time, use a headset rather than cradling the phone between your head and neck. Experiment with various styles until you find the headset that works best for you.

3.) Use Color to Set the Tone

Color matters. Choose the colors for your office wisely, said Wilkes. She cited highly-regarded color psychologist Angela Wright for these pointers:

  • blue stimulates clear thought
  • yellow boosts creativity and lifts spirits
  • red physiologically affects the body and elevates one's pulse
  • green creates a sense of calming balance
  • saturated, bright colors stimulate
  • softer, muted colors relax and soothe

If you can’t control the color of your office, choose accents like desk accessories, and artwork in colors that create the work environment you want, said Wilkes.

4.) Bring a Little Nature Into Your Office

Research by scientists at the University of Exeter found that plants aid concentration, increase productivity and boost staff wellbeing by 47% at work. Plants are so effective at removing contaminants that NASA will include them in future space stations. For example, turnstone’s Bivi holder has an optional planter insert that lets you water you greens and bring more personality to your workspace. So invest in a potted plant.

5.) Take the Chill Off

Before you lower the thermostat to save money on your energy bill, know that warmer temperatures can increase productivity. When the temperature increased from 68 to 77 degrees, typing errors fell by 44% and typing output jumped 150%, according to research conducted by Cornell University. “If you don't have any say in the temperature of your office, make sure you have a sweater stashed away for colder days,” advises Wilkes.

6.) Find a Quiet Zone

Nearly 70% of all offices in the U.S. are open-plan workspaces, according to the International Management Facility Association. Open layouts encourage interaction among team members, but can also be distracting to some. If you fall into this category, find a lounge area, an empty conference room, or another space that has no distractions, recommends Wilkes. For example, turnstone’s Campfire Screens creates a semi-private zone to work and keep you from daily office distractions. Adding privacy screens to work stations and lounge areas is another way to encourage focus and reduce interruptions.

7.) Use Scent to Increase Performance

Scent is our strongest sense, yet we take it for granted as a method for boosting productivity, said Wilkes. Typists made fewer errors when exposed to various scents, according to research by Takasago Corporation: lemon scent produced 54% fewer mistakes, jasmine 33% and lavender 20%.

Create a quick DIY air freshener by mixing water and a few drops of essential oil in a spray bottle and mist around your workspace, suggests Wilkes.


Taking steps to provide a comfortable office that’s free of distractions is critical to maintaining an engaged team. When you maximize window space, consider privacy needs and add pops of color, you’ll make any place warmer and more inviting — and, you’ll reap a reward of a happier, more productive team.

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