8 Tips for Creating a Productive Office Workspace, Backed by Science

tips for creating a productive officeWhen you’re dragging at work, what do you do? Let me guess: Grab some coffee or head to the vending machine for a sugar-laden pick-me-up.

I don’t judge. In fact, I just moseyed over to the vending machine myself. (For the record, I walked away from it empty-handed. Never mind that I slathered a bunch of peanut butter on some bread a few minutes later.)

But what if, instead of food, our very environment could help us stay alert and productive? In fact, it can. If you’d rather your office space stimulate you — rather than caffeine or sugar — look to these tips and the research backing them to give you the pick-me-up you need.

1. Have lots of natural light, but orient your desk away from the window. Artificial light increases feelings of tiredness, according to a study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, while natural light increases productivity. However, a Harvard Business School study found workers to be distracted by beautiful weather. That means: Don’t aim your desk at that beautiful day to keep productivity at an optimum.

Now if it’s a miserable day out, you have no excuses because Harvard’s research also indicates that people are more productive on bad-weather days.

2. Bring nature into the office. Don’t just stop with windows! The Journal of Environmental Psychology discovered that participants in a study recovered from mental fatigue more quickly when looking at photos of nature. You can one up them by bringing actual nature indoors with a plant!

3. Photo of cute kittens and puppies aren’t just for Facebook — they help your productivity too. In fact, researchers at Hiroshima University found evidence that cute baby animal images trigger feelings of being careful in us, which resulted in improved performance in dexterity and visual search tests by subjects. They also enhance our fine motor skills, according to a 2009 study from the University of Virginia’s psychology department — all good things for productivity.

So you may fear kitten puppy imagery will make you look like a big softie, but you can tell your employees or colleagues that there’s a scientific reason you have a photo of a kitten with a tiny pillow on your wall.

Sleeping Kitty

4. Keep your office warm. You might think it increases sluggishness, but Cornell’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory found the opposite. They discovered typing errors decreased 44 percent and typing output improved by 150 percent when an office temperature was bumped up from 68 degrees to 77.

A Men’s Health study recommends temperatures between 71 and 77 degrees for an ideal work environment.

5. Reduce office noise any way you can. Open floor plans may be great for collaboration, but they’re terrible for productivity. Higher levels of epinephrine, associated with stress, were found in workers who experienced low levels of noise, according to Cornell University. In fact, a University of Sydney study found lack of sound privacy to be the top complaint among open-office and cubicle dwellers.

top office complaints

Whether you work in an office with others or a home office that isn’t perfectly quiet, noise-cancelling headphones can help — and they’re better than listening to music, which an Applied Cognitive Psychology study found can lessen your ability to absorb new information. However, if doing a task performed regularly, music can actually help focus, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, which studied surgeons performing laboratory work.

6. Personalize your space — but don’t overdo it. If you’re a manager, letting employees adapt their work spaces is great for morale and makes them 32 percent more productive, according to the  University of Exeter. However, too many personal items can be distracting, so limit the amount of photos and knickknacks you keep at your own desk.

7. Paint the office walls a subtle color. Bright colors bring up too many emotions, while neutral colors are a wash — they don’t affect productivity one way or the other. Frank Mahnke, author of Color, Environment, & Human Response notes that light green, like “grayed jade,” is calming and pastel yellow is stimulating but cozy — all helpful for a good work environment.

office colors for productivity 8. Keep your office space clean (or messy, depending on your goals). Ohio State University studied therapists’ offices and subjects’ reaction to them. A clean office was viewed as  inviting. However, a University of Minnesota study found that subjects in a messy office were more creative than those in a tidy office.

Will you never need coffee again if you follow these eight steps? We make no promises. But maybe in a cozy yet stimulating office environment, you’ll feel less reliant on it. And that’s a good thing, right?

Please add any additional tips you found helpful in creating a productive office environment in our comments!

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