Aug 222017

3 Steps to ProductivityMaintaining a high level of office productivity is essential in the workplace, and offices are no exception. If workers’ productivity levels begin to drop, the company for which they work will produce fewer goods or services – or produce them at a slower pace. Regardless, the company takes a hit by generating less revenue.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average American clocks 8.8 hours per day at his or her job. However, studies show that office workers are only productive for a fraction of this time. Office managers and employers can encourage higher productivity levels by familiarizing themselves with the following ten things that affect office productivity.

#1) Privacy

Privacy, or lack thereof, can affect workers’ productivity levels in the office. In 2011, the Harvard Business Review published an article in which it concluded that open office designs promote higher productivity. Basically, workers in open offices realize they are being watched more carefully, so they tend to have shorter discussions with coworkers and instead focus on their job.

Research conducted by the Cornell University International Workplace Studies Program reinforced this belief, also suggesting that open workspaces are more effective at foster productivity and learning than closed, cubicle-designed workspaces. Researchers found that workers in office cubicles would spend more time talking on the phone, browsing the Internet for non-work-related content, and gossiping with coworkers. By using an open office design, these productivity-killing problems were largely eliminated.

#2) Happiness

Unhappy employees affect office productivityWhether or not workers are happy can affect office productivity levels. According to a study conducted by economists from the University of Warwick, happy workers are 12% more productive than their unhappy counterparts.

Led by Professor Andrew Oswald, researchers found a direct correlation between happiness and workplace productivity. Professor Oswald explained that positive emotions “invigorate human beings,” prompting them to work harder and more efficiently.

Some employers assume that offering workers financial incentives – bonuses, increased pay, company shares, etc. – is the most effective solution for a happy workforce. According to Professor Oswald, employee support and recognition are most effective at producing a happy workforce. Whether it’s an employee-of-the-month award or a verbal “thanks for the hard work,” a little recognition goes a long way at fostering happiness in the office.

In addition to promoting higher productivity levels, a happy workforce offers other benefits as well:

  • Lower absenteeism
  • Improved employee health and wellness
  • Lower employee turnover rate
  • Less conflict between workers
  • Improved morale
  • Increased sales
  • Fewer work accidents and mistakes
  • Reduces the need for micromanagement
  • Encourages leadership and teamwork

#3) Plants

Are plants incorporated into your office’s design? If not, you should consider adding them. Along with the aesthetic benefits they offer, plants may promote higher productivity levels in the office. A study conducted by Dr. Chris Knight from Exeter University found that workers in “lean,” barebones offices were 15% more productive when just a few houseplants were added. Adding just one houseplant per square meter substantially improved workers’ memory retention skills.

Throughout the 18-month-long study, Dr. Knight and his colleagues observed workers becoming more engaged with their surroundings when houseplants were added to their workplace. While this study was done on offices in the United Kingdom and Netherlands, it’s safe to assume the results are universal and apply to U.S. offices as well.

How can houseplants promote higher productivity levels exactly? Researchers were reluctant to answer this question, saying only that they observed a correlation between the presence of houseplants and increased environmental engagement. Other studies, however, have found that plants can lower stress and anxiety, improve cognitive function and increase attention spans. Perhaps these collective effects are the reason why houseplants are a powerful productivity booster in the office.

So, if you want to promote higher productivity levels in your office, try decorating with a few houseplants. You can place them on windowsills, desks, or in stand-alone containers. Assuming this study is correct, this otherwise simple decorative accessory can make office workers more productive.

#4) Sunlight

SunlightExposure to sunlight can also affect workers’ office productivity. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays stimulate the production of vitamin D and serotonin while also regulating the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm). Vitamin D is important because it helps the body absorb calcium and subsequently promotes strong bones, whereas serotonin regulates mood and sleep. For these reasons, most health professionals recommend getting at least 15 to 20 minutes of sun exposure per day, depending on the fairness of your skin.

Unfortunately, though, many office workers don’t get enough sunshine to yield these benefits – and researchers believe this lack of exposure could interfere with their sleeping habits and ultimately lower their productivity levels.

A study conducted by researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that employees who worked in offices with windows were more likely to exercise and experience healthy habits than their counterparts who workers windowless offices. Researchers further added that lack of sleep leads to memory loss, slower reaction times, shorter attention spans and lower productivity.

The study’s researchers concluded by saying sunlight “may provide a profound way to improve office workers’ productivity and health, as well as the safety of the community they work and live in.”

Lighting is essential in the office, but it’s also a major complaint among workers. A survey conducted by the American Society of Interior Design (ASID) found that 68% of office workers complain about lighting. Artificial light is often problematic because it’s either too bright or too dim, causing strain and discomfort.

Therefore, office managers and employers should consider natural lighting as an alternative. Installing new windows, removing obstructions, and leaving the curtains and blinds open will bring in more natural light. Even if it’s not a complete substitution to overhead fixtures, natural lighting can improve workers’ satisfaction while also boosting their productivity levels.

#5) Color

Dull officeYou might be surprised to learn that the color of an office can affect workers’ productivity. Research shows that the human eye can see roughly 7 million different colors. While some of these colors can trigger negative reactions in the body, including headaches, stress, and anxiety, others have the opposite effect by producing positive effects, such as increased productivity.

According to human resources professional and co-author of The Future-Proof Workplace Linda Sharkey, engaging office workers with the right colors promotes higher energy levels, reduces fatigue and improves overall productivity in the workplace. Some of the top colors to foster productivity in the office, according to Sharkey, include blue, yellow, orange, red and green. Moreover, colors that you should avoid, or at least limit the use of, include white and gray.

Researchers at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently sought to investigate the way in which color affects the brain. By measuring biomarkers of brain activity, they found 460-nanometer blue triggered the same circadian rhythmic response as daylight, whereas 640-nanometer red a strong alerting effect that didn’t reduce or otherwise disturb individuals’ melatonin levels.

#6) Vacation

Bahamas VacationA 2016 survey conducted by the Washington Post suggests that Americans wasted 658 million vacation days in 2015. Whether you prefer the beach, the mountains or elsewhere, there’s no better way to unwind than by taking some time off work. Unfortunately, though, some workers choose to skip their vacations, believing they’ll work longer and earn more money by staying on the clock – and this could be hurting their productivity levels.

As explained by Inc, clocking too many hours at the office can hurt your productivity levels. By taking vacations, however, it improves your productivity in several ways:

  • Vacations allow workers to catch up their sleep
  • Workers are typically exposed to nature when vacationing
  • Vacations spark ingenuity and creativity
  • Vacations offer a change of perspective
  • Workers can rest both their body and mind when vacationing

The combination of these effects can, in turn, reduce stress levels, improve cognitive function, foster happiness and boost productivity levels. So, if you’re thinking about skipping vacation this year, you should reconsider. A short getaway to your preferred destination is the perfect way to rejuvenate your body and mind, allowing you to work more efficiently when you return to the office.

#7) BYOD

There are both advantages and disadvantages to allowing workers to bring and use their own electronic devices from home. Known as a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, it’s become a hot topic among employers and office managers in recent years. Some companies embrace a BYOD policy for the cost savings and convenience it offers, whereas others reject it due to security concerns. If you’re able to create an iron-clad security plan to mitigate the risk of data theft, however, you may find a BYOD policy is an effective strategy to improve workers’ productivity levels.

A study conducted by Dell Software found that two-thirds of businesses notice improved worker productivity – and customer response times – by implementing a BYOD policy. Workers are more familiar with their own devices, so they tend to use them more efficiently than devices provided by their employer; thus, improving productivity levels.

#8) Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air pollution was recently ranked as one of the top five environmental hazards by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to the EPA, the air inside a home or building is between two and five times more toxic than outdoor air. In addition to increasing the risk of disease, the high concentration of toxins and particulate matter in the air may make workers less productive.

One study found that indoor air pollution makes workers 6% to 9% less productive on average. A separate study published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) suggests that workers are 5% to 6% more productive when working in environments with “good” air quality rated by the EPA.

#9) Temperature

It’s just the air quality that affects workers’ productivity; it’s also the temperature of the air. Granted, office temperatures vary wildly from company to company. Some companies prefer a cool office of 70 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, whereas others prefer warmer offices in excess of 77 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. So, which environment yields the highest productivity for workers?

Researchers from Cornell University found that raising office temperatures from 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit resulted in 44% fewer typing errors. Before the study, researchers theorized that cooler temperatures would encourage workers to work harder and better. After examining the effects of cool vs. warm offices, however, they found the latter was most effective at improving workers’ productivity levels.

If your office’s thermostat is cranked down, try raising it to see how it affects workers’ productivity levels. At the very least, employers and office managers will reap the benefits of lower utility bills during the summer. The study cited above, however, indicates that a warm office also makes workers more productive, and that alone is reason enough to raise the thermostat.

#10) Noise

Of course, noise can also affect office productivity. Constant and/or loud noises distract workers from their respective tasks, making them less productive. To put the problem into perspective, one study found that workers are 66% less productive when exposed to noise from a near conversation. Other studies reinforce this belief, also indicating that noise is a top productivity-killer in the office.

The American Society of Heating and Air Conditioning Engineers recommends limiting workplace noise to 58 dBA to minimize distraction and improve productivity. When noise begins to exceed this limit, it creates a distracting environment that’s difficult to work in.

Aside from providing workers with noise-canceling headphones, there are other steps you can take to minimize distracting noise in the office, some of which include:

  • Install sound-absorbing materials into walls, floors, and structures
  • Encourage workers to speak quietly to one another
  • Dedicate special “quiet zones” throughout the office
  • Install soundproof windows
  • Consider plant acoustics – a wall made of live, growing plants – as a natural, Eco-friendly sound-absorbent solution
  • Keep doors closed when possible

These are just a few somewhat surprising elements that can affect productivity in the office. By implementing the necessary changes to avoid these problems, you’ll create a more effective and enjoyable environment in which to work.