5 Affordable Ways to Create a Work Environment that Engages Employees

Creating an open office that is orderly, comfortable and colorful costs little but dramatically improves productivity and job satisfaction.

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By Matt Straz

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A company's work environment really affects employee engagement and productivity but only only one in four U.S. workers are in optimal workplace environments, according to Gensler's 2013 U.S. Workplace Survey of 2,035 workers.

In an effort to create happy, engaged employees, companies are beginning to place more emphasis on creating a work environment that fosters engagement, productivity and innovation. Here are just a few ways employers can makeover the workspace to help employees work effectively:

1. Forget open-door, adopt open space.

Workplace collaboration is key to spreading and developing innovative ideas. Erecting barriers between employees (R.I.P cubicles), while intended to improve individual success, can hurt workflow and communication. Tear down those barriers in favor of open office space.

An open office space makes it easy for employees to interact more frequently, which is one of the best ways to encourage collaboration. Increased communication builds a sense of camaraderie among workers, fostering teamwork and improving the flow of information.

To manage the distractions an open office plan may create, offer breakout areas for when employees need a quieter place to work.If an open office space isn't in the cards, designate a space within the office for co-workers to interact and collaborate.

2. Practice feng shui.

Workspace design can make a big difference in employee engagement and productivity without costing a penny. The ancient Chinese practice of feng shui is based on the premise that our environment mirrors what's happening inside of us. The purpose of feng shui is to create a space that is aligned with who we are and where we see ourselves.

A simple example of how this age-old practice applies to employee performance is how a messy workspace reflects, or creates, messy thoughts. A cluttered work area is bound to distract employees rather than help them perform at their best. To avoid distractions, encourage employees to regularly de-clutter their desks. Offering incentives to organize their work areas, such as "Workspace of the Month" awards, will encourage employees to maintain a tidy workspace.

Related: Feng Shui and the Successful Entrepreneur

3. Ditch the fluorescents.

The source of light in the workplace can either positively or negatively affect productivity. We've likely all experienced, hated, the fluorescent-flooded work environment with few windows. Avoid lighting that is too dim or too harsh. As much natural lighting as possible is ideal in the office.

A 2013 study on workplace daylight and sleep found a strong correlation between workplace daylight exposure and employees' sleep, activity and quality of life. Compared to workers in offices without windows, those exposed to more natural light in the workplace slept an average of 46 minutes more per night. Workers exposed to little to no natural light while at work reported lower scores than their counterparts on quality of life measures. The stats speak for themselves -- more natural light leads to well-rested, happy and productive employees.

Related: Improve Your Office's Productivity by Boosting Employees' Sleep Quality

4. Keep employees comfy.

It's not easy for employees to engage in their daily routine when they're shivering in their seats or fanning themselves with their notes. Employees are at their most productive when they're comfortable. However, "comfortable" can mean different things to different people. So where should employers set the office thermostat?

A 2013 Men's Health analysis of more than 16 corporate offices and 400 employee questionnaires found that employees are more productive in warmer temperatures. Experiment with various office temperatures (staying between 70 and 77 degrees is a safe bet) to gauge what works best with the majority of employees. For everyone else, invite them to bring personal heaters or fans to the office.

5. Embrace a colorful workplace.

Say goodbye to empty, drab, grey walls that do little to inspire employees, and say hello to a fun, colorful workplace that excites and encourages employee innovation. There's an undeniable connection between the colors employees face in the workplace and their level of engagement and productivity.

For instance, walls that are green or blue create a calm, relaxed environment, while colors like yellow and red stimulate and energize employees. Take a look at the psychology of colors in the workplace and discover how a simple paint job can make a world of difference.

Related: For a More Productive Office, Appeal to the 5 Senses (Infographic)

Matt Straz

Founder and CEO of Namely

Matt Straz is the founder and CEO of Namely, the HR and payroll platform for the world's most exciting companies.

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