The invisible forces of Feng Shui may not have you convinced just yet, but there is definitely something to be said for the benefits of small tweaks to your environment.
An independent study in Pakistan, 2009, showed that a comfortable and ergonomic office “motivates the employees and increases their performance substantially.” That research is backed up by plenty of complimentary studies. Rather than delving too deeply into the perplexing science of it all, see for yourself, and try some of the functional suggestions below.
Bring in the Water Cooler
A recent European office workers’ survey found that warm relations between all levels of employees increased “both workplace atmosphere and productivity.” This means focusing on more than just getting employees chatting in a meeting. It means encouraging idle chit-chat at the water cooler, and increasing small-talk with the maintenance staff.
If you work remotely, having “off topic” chat rooms on team collaboration platforms will help with this. If your team uses Slack, use some of these techniques to improve informal collaboration. If you simply use email, the occasional personal message should be permitted.
Enlarge that Lunch Table
As software company Atlassian was rapidly expanding, they decided to run an experiment. This experiment showed that software developers who lunched in large groups wrote 10% more code. The performance of sales people also increased depending on how large their lunch group was.
By investing in a larger lunch table (rounded ones are the best), and carefully selected free snacks to lure more people into the eating areas, Atlassian’s productivity (and therefore profits) rose substantially.
Give to Charity
Rather than have teams work solely for profit or wages, introduce a philanthropic side to their work. By introducing a more benevolent aspect to work, such as linking performance with a contribution to charity, productivity can increase by up to 30%.
These social incentives can be distributed in various ways, including lump sum, and performance-based. Both of these methods seem to be equally as effective at increasing performance. Not only that, they also give something back to society at the same time.
As an idea, increased performance could be linked with the offer of small loans to disadvantaged communities on Kiva (overview), Zidisha, or one of many alternative lending platforms. Otherwise, employees could vote for a specific charity to receive a performance-based donation at the end of each month.
Buy Some Plants
The presence of plants in the workplace has repeatedly been shown to help workers reduce stress, more easily recover from difficult tasks, avoid fatigue while performing difficult tasks, and improve air quality. What’s there to argue about?
Overall, the presence of plants in work environments have been shown to increase productivity by 15%, alongside increasing the happiness of workers. These results can be replicated in your own home office, or even by having a window that looks out over greenery.
If you’re not gifted with green fingers, there are several devices that can help you keep the plants alive, as well as gardening apps that’ll help you to learn on the job.
The Freedom to Personalize
For a long while, many offices have chosen to keep decoration minimal and stagnant in order to avoid distraction. Fortunately (for employees and employers alike), the results of a 2010 study suggest this is the wrong way to do things.
By offering workers the opportunity to take control of the appearance of a section (or all) of their workspace, productivity can rocket by up to 32%. This “freedom” includes arranging pictures and plants, rearranging furniture, and simply adding some more personality to the office. And if the increase in productivity isn’t enough to sway you, this opportunity also resulted in higher levels of happiness and health in workers.
To help plan the changes to your office online (even if it’s tiny), you can measure your office space with the MagicPlan mobile app, then use free room planning tools such as HomeStyler, or Ikea’s Office Planner to play around with ideas. When it comes to choosing colors, be sure to research the psychological effects of various tones (i.e. blues and greens have been shown to help with the generation of new ideas).
Play Some Natural Sounds
There’s no denying that certain sounds and music make it more difficult to work. But when it comes to natural sounds, such as flowing water, the overall results show that mood, cognitive function, and the ability to refocus, improve. This is partly because, as open plan offices become more common, background noise is necessary in order to muffle the distracting sound of speech.
For the past 40 years, this background noise has usually been “white noise” (which can be played via mobile apps), but Jonas Braasch’s research is showing that natural sounds may be just as, if not more, effective.
“Sitting is the new smoking” is the recent slogan making its way around the fitness industry. We’ve written before about how to stay fit at your desk, but the amount of time we spend on our backsides may still be leading to an increased risk of cancer, diabetes and heat disease, among other things .
These problems are obviously of major inconvenience to the worker, but also leads to absenteeism, lower team morale, and necessarily lower productivity. One increasingly popular remedy to these problems is to introduce standing desks to the workplace. Google and Facebook are both encouraging the use of standing desks in their offices, while LifeHack claims that standing can be twice as productive as sitting.
Work out at Work
There’s a huge body of research on the productivity benefits of exercise. The consensus is basically (and unsurprisingly) that physical health is massively important for cognitive functioning. Despite this, it’s often difficult for employers to justify giving employees time within their workday to work out.
Recent research from Stockholm University and Karolinska Institutet, however, has found that devoting time in your workday is likely to have a direct, positive impact on productivity.
Ulrica von Thiele Schwarz and Henna Hasson, the researchers behind the study, explain;
“This increased productivity comes, on the one hand, from people getting more done during the hours they are at work, perhaps because of increased stamina and, on the other hand, from less absenteeism owing to sickness.”
Promote Your Goals
We all know that working in a team can be difficult, but research conducted in 2013 tells us that ensuring the team knows exactly what they are aiming at can be highly motivating. When each team member knows where they are headed, perceptions of “cooperation, trust, and shared expectations” have been shown to increase.
This feeling of sharing a common, identifiable goal can be improved on even further by having teams work in “War Rooms.” According to ScienceDaily, “workers sit at wall-less workstations in one big, open room.” This is similar to Larry Page’s idea of “Moon Shots,” where skilled teams at Google work in isolation from the rest of the Google team on a very specific problem.
There are plenty of tips to help you set specific goals. But in terms of achieving those goals, creating a vision board is a fantastic way to keep motivated. And if you work alone, setting up a mastermind group is a great way to go.
Shed Some Light on the Subject
We’ve all heard that natural light can help to make us feel healthier, and increase our productivity. This is largely because of the physiological effects sleep has on our bodies. By exposing ourselves to more natural light, we tend to sleep deeper, and for longer.
Along with this, Northwestern University has found “increasing evidence that exposure to light, during the day, particularly in the morning, is beneficial to your health via its effects on mood, alertness and metabolism.” On the other side of the coin, dim lights can have profoundly negative effects. By forcing the eyes to strain, dim lighting in the office leads to headaches, fatigue, drowsiness, and lack of focus.
Of course, natural light entering an office through windows is the preferable option, but if this isn’t feasible, there are a number of alternatives. The popular Philips’ Golite ($199) produces blue light that mimics the sky, enabling you to enjoy the effects of natural light whenever you like. Full Spectrum Lighting offers a better lighting alternative to, say, fluorescent lighting (though don’t expect the promised health benefits). If neither of these are possible, there’s always the old fashioned outdoors walk for your daily dose of sunlight.
Science Boosts Productivity
Although many pieces of productivity advice should be taken with a pinch of salt, there’s a lot to be said for the science behind many of the suggestions above. If you find yourself, or your team, needing a productivity boost, consider adopting a few of these suggestions into your workplace. We’d love to hear how you get on!
What other office “hacks” and alterations have helped you to increase your productivity?
Image Credits: Laboratory research by totojang1977 via Shutterstock, behind a table by Voronin76 via Shutterstock, Cups and Unicycles by Lars Ploughmann (Flickr), Sushi Time by Sean Hagen (Flickr), Faces Helped by Charity:Water by Sacca (Flickr), Plant by Peter A (flickr), while Justin was cleaning his office… by Justin Brockie (Flickr), Water Trickle by DM (Flickr), Studio Desks: Eric Benoit by Juhan Sonin (Flickr), Finally by SuperFantastic,(Flickr), 3D Bullseye by Chris Potter (Flickr), Grand Bazaar Rays by KamrenB Photography (Flickr).