From Scientific Research Come 6 Moves You Can Make to Boost Office Productivity
Who knew plants were anything more than a decorative touch? (Tip: Start with Gerbera daisies.)
In any company, no matter how big 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.
Both the physical environment and culture of a business play a role in how motivated and effective 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 beach-front veranda, adding a touch of nature to an indoor office space offers some perks. One study described by the American Psychological Association's PsycNet found that workers in spaces with even just a couple of plants showed 15 percent higher productivity compared to those in lean surroundings. The researchers’ premise was that objects like plants, photos and other mementos in workspaces encourage psychological engagement, unlike ultra-modern sterile spaces.
Another perk? Live plants promote healthier indoor air, which research by the National Institute of Environmental Health Services has shown affects cognitive functioning in the workplace. NASA researchers determined something similar, finding that plants like Gerbera daisies, mums, mass canes and others removed from the air significant amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which come from plastics, paint, cleaners and furniture, all typically found in offices.
Creating motivation and making your team feel appreciated is a critical part of long-term productivity. One study reported by the Harvard Business Review found that workplaces with “positive and virtuous practices” such as mutual care, support and kindness, inspiring and emphasizing meaningfulness of work and respect and gratitude enjoyed greater productivity, performance and customer satisfaction.
The study 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 this involves is writing down a couple of sentences about what they are grateful for a couple times a week. Not only can this practice improve productivity by way of increasing happiness, but it’s even been linked with better health. Even easier? Simply thank your team members for their work.
Create some privacy.
Open, collaborative office spaces have been trending for some time, and they do have benefits. For example, during meetings they encourage communication and brainstorming. However, recent studies indicate they might not be best for productivity overall.
In a 2013 study by Gensler, for example, 53 percent of workers surveyed mentioned being disturbed by others when they are trying to focus, with 69 percent being unhappy with noise levels at work. Open office plans also correlate with increased sick days, according to a Danish study reported on PubMed.
This may be important because the amount of work being performed by solo practitioners (particularly for knowledge workers) continues to increase. And the poorer an employee’s focus, the less effective this kind of individual has been found to be in areas like collaboration and learning; job satisfaction was also lower.
Workplaces with balanced opportunities for individual focus and collaboration were said to be more innovative, creative and encouraging, according to the Gensler survey.
So, how do you make communication fluid while still enabling that important opportunity for private focus? When floor plans allow, having private workspaces or rooms people can use to concentrate as opposed to bullpen-only layouts may well encourage the desired balance. Other solutions include rules like "Headphones on means do-not-disturb" and specified quiet hours.
Let the sunshine in.
Harsh fluorescent office lighting is no friend to the eyes. In fact, it’s associated with UV-related eye disease, sleep-stealing melatonin suppression and the risk that epilepsy, lupus and certain skin conditions may be exacerbated. Conversely, significant links have been found between daytime sunlight exposure and productivity, as sunlight affects circadian rhythm and vitamin D production, which ties into alertness and motivation.
Still, not every workspace can offer practical access to windows, or frequent daylight. What should you do when not everyone can sit by a window? One small German study found that lighting conditions simulating daylight improved alertness and mood compared to electric lighting.
Switching to softer, more-natural toned bulbs instead of halogens is one idea. LED lighting may also be advised to encourage alertness and performance, rather than fluorescent bulbs. A Cornell study found that lensed-uplit conditions were preferable to the more common overhead downlighting, as well, and resulted in less eye strain and higher productivity. Taking breaks outdoors when possible can also provide sunshine boosts during the day.
Temperatures are another factor playing a role in circadian rhythms, which affect alertness and tiredness. A 2015 Career Builder survey found 23 percent of people surveyed complained of a too-cold workplace, while 25 percent felt their offices were too hot. Getting it right is important, as science shows both too warm and too cool an office environment impacts people’s productivity and accuracy. In the Career Builder survey, 53 percent of respondents said they were less productive when their surroundings were too cold at work, while 72 percent said their work suffers when they're too warm.
What’s ideal? Another Cornell study found that controlling temperatures between 68 degrees F. and 77 degrees F reduced errors and improved productivity. And a review of several studies found that productivity suffered 2 percent for every degree over 77 degrees F., suggesting that optimal conditions lie in the 70-to-77 degrees 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 employees' personal comfort and productivity.
Encourage 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 rests also help reduce eye strain and physical discomfort
Desktime, a productivity tracking program, analyzed user data and found that the most productive people using the tool worked “with purpose” for an average of 52 minutes straight, followed by 17-minute breaks. Another method that’s been around for a while is the Pomodoro technique, which involves focusing for 25 minutes followed by a five-minute break, or alternately, 50 minutes of work and 10-minute breaks.
Longer breaks are then included after several cycles have passed; and those breaks can be tracked manually or through the use of a variety of pre-programmed apps and timers.
During breaks, suggest that employees try listening to music or meditate, stretch, walk outside, socialize, catch up on news or social media, or do whatever they need to clear out mental distractions and feel happy.
Taking a well-timed power nap also offers some reprieve for afternoon fatigue and helps renew focus. Just keep it short: 10 to 20 minutes is ideal for harnessing the benefits of rest without inducing drowsiness or affecting nighttime sleep.
In sum, 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 clearheaded, they'll likely encounter fewer obstacles getting in the way of reaching goals and feeling motivated.
What do you find keeps you most productive at work, or what has made the biggest difference in your workplace?
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