Designing to increase productivity

Can the office environment really make that much difference to productivity?

There have been many questions raised around environment and productivity recently, with a whole range of factors in the workplace held accountable for levels of staff performance and how employees view themselves within a company.

How well an office is adapted to being an agile working environment and environmental influences, such as the use of natural lighting, the colours used to design the workspace and the temperature of the office, all, most definitely, have a role to play…

An agile working environment

The precise definition of an agile working environment is a matter for debate. Generally associated with flexible working, remote working and home working arrangements, ‘agile working’ is, in fact, a broad term, which encompasses all manner of factors relating to working practices. It can be construed as a mix of the encompassing of modern technological devices, the principles of flexible and smart working and the individual working preferences of employees.

By utilising modern technology, and making the most of remote mobile devices, workers can choose how and where they work; this makes them ‘smart workers’ who instinctively know how best to be productive.

Office managers report greater productivity, improved morale and a heightened sense of purpose amongst employees who are able to choose their own working schedules. Allowing a worker the freedom to be ‘agile’ makes an employee more motivated and involved in their work.

To fully facilitate agile working, employers must offer their employees a wide range of options in terms of workspaces, flexible break out areas, seating arrangements and the ability to use portable devices both inside and outside the office.

The affect of colour

Traditionally, offices have been decorated in neutral palettes, designed to reduce distraction and enable office workers to focus on the task at hand. Now, we’re more au fait with the impact that certain colours can have on a space’s inhabitants and we are more likely to tailor our choices accordingly.

Studies show that people respond well to environments painted in shades of blue while green is seen as an uplifting, calming colour, thanks to its association with nature and the outdoors. Depending on the amount of natural light in an office, other outdoor hues such as tan, khaki and shades of yellow also work well. Yellow, along with orange, is a cheery, positive colour that creates a warm environment in breakout areas, canteens and bathrooms.

Other research indicates that red is a productive colour in offices where attention to detail is imperative and that black and white is effective for an elegant, distinctive look.

Hitting the right temperature

How hot or cold an office is, is also known to make a difference to work outcomes. Different studies have concluded varying optimal temperatures for workers, ranging from 21°C-25°C.

The temperature of an office will depend on a variety of factors from the time of year and the type of air conditioning installed to the layout and the ergonomics of the workspace.  It’s worth measuring and evaluating how the workspace operates in terms of air flow and how conducive it is to maintaining an optimal temperature as most people can’t stand being either too hot or too cold and productivity has been proven to drop when the temperature significantly increases or decreases.

The benefits of natural lighting

Whilst overhead lighting can cause fatigue, eye strain and headaches, there is a high correlation between the amount of natural light in an office and the efficiency of employees.

The recommended ratio of artificial light to natural light in an office is 1:5, as stated in European legislation; daylight is good for the vision and encourages a healthy immune system.

Studies indicate that higher productivity is the result of an increased amount of natural light. People in offices exposed to a greater amount of natural light were shown to feel a higher level of satisfaction in their workplace, thanks to the variety and stimulation afforded by a view out of a window.

Other design aspects

Choosing comfy, practical chairs and desk arrangements allows workers to sit comfortably and to work at their optimum level of performance. Low-level furniture is preferred in many modern offices, as it encourages a free flow of ideas and removes traces of the old hierarchy, where the boss is separate to the rest of the workforce.

Supporting furniture, including bookcases, cabinets and lockers, should take into account how the office will look to both employees and customers. At the same time, thought must be given to the design of client facing areas. Note, creating a positive, uplifting client environment may well enable staff to interact with clients in a more productive way.