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5 data-backed design tips for a more productive office

Kristen Hicks Headshot

Office design may not be the first thing you think about when considering how to attract and keep good talent. But your employees will spend a significant chunk of their working hours in your office space. It just makes sense that what it looks like will influence their well being.

The drab, gray cubicle has become visual shorthand for an uninspiring work environment. You can do better for your employees. And by designing a better office space for them, you’ll benefit as well. Experts have conducted office design research that shows a clear relationship between office design and productivity.

To create a space that helps your employees do their best work, take advantage of these five research-backed tips for designing an office that improves productivity.

1. Make sure your space has natural lighting

In an 18-week study by the Well Living Lab, workers that had access to natural light in their workspaces reported higher levels of satisfaction than those without. When windows were covered, people reported finding it harder to get work done. 

The lighting in your office also influences sleep quality. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that people who worked in offices with windows got an average of 46 additional minutes of sleep a night. Sleep is, of course, related to overall health and well being, so unsurprisingly, another study by University of Oregon researchers estimated that up to 10% of employee absences could be attributed to a lack of daylight in the office. 

Clearly, access to natural light should be an important consideration in your office design. If at all possible, make sure your office includes ample windows that let the daylight in.

2. When natural light isn’t an option, opt for blue-enriched LED lighting over fluorescent

If you find yourself renting office space that doesn’t have many windows, they’re not exactly an easy thing to add. While daylight is best, if you simply don’t have that option, you can go with the next best thing: blue-enriched LED lighting.

The Well Living Lab performed a study that compared the effects of working under fluorescent lighting and blue-enriched white light. The workers in the office with blue-enriched light saw improved performance at task switching and reported feeling more productive. They also received an average of 23 more minutes of sleep a night.

3. Add plants

While some business owners may feel an impulse toward a clean, minimalist design, you don’t want to leave out plants. Incorporating greenery around your office both makes the space more pleasant to be in and has a measurable effect on health and productivity.

A study from the University of Exeter found that adding greenery to an office space improved productivity by 15%. And according to another from the University of Technology, Sydney, plants also reduce worker stress and other negative emotions by 30-60%. Plants are a relatively easy and affordable addition to your office. But they make a discernible difference in your employees’ quality of life and the amount of work they produce as a result.

4. Include space for movement

A big part of normal workplace culture is sitting. Lots of it. Around 25% of people in the U.S. reported sitting for over eight hours a day. And it’s hurting our health and productivity. 

Even employees that find concentrated time to fit a workout into their day—usually before or after work—suffer the detrimental effects of spending too much of the day sitting. A study from the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that short bouts of physical activity performed every hour throughout the day have a positive effect on energy, cognitive function, and mood levels. 

Your overall work culture is one important factor in getting employees to move around more—they have to feel getting up for walks throughout the day won’t look bad to a supervisor. But your office design has a role to play too. A cramped, cluttered office with no walkways won’t encourage movement. Make sure you’re incorporating spaces where employees can get up and move around or take walks throughout the day.

5. Turn up the thermostat

Getting the temperature right is another important factor in employee productivity. If you keep your office too cold, workers are likely to make more errors and be less productive. A Cornell University study found bumping the temperature from 68 to 77 degrees produced a 150% increase in worker output. And in a Well Living study (the same one that studied natural lighting), workers reported finding it harder to get work done in cold offices.

The Cornell researchers estimate that a cold office could be costing you 10% more per employee in labor costs. Turn up the thermostats a little and you’ll make employees more comfortable and get better results. 

Get the Benefits of Office Design Research 

The design of your office matters. But if you feel out of your depth in getting it right, you don’t have to take on the job yourself. WeWork’s offices are skillfully designed by experts that know the science and take it into account with every design decision they make. You and your employees can reap the benefits of their knowledge.