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How To Create A Productivity-Enhancing Office Space

Moving into a new office recently got me thinking about how our physical environment affects our productivity.

There’s not doubt our physical space has an impact on how much we get done and the quality of our work. But how exactly does it work?

Traditional offices have cubicles and enclosed offices, where employees can complete their tasks in silence and with plenty of privacy.

Such office spaces still exist nowadays. But the impression is that those organizations are traditional and, well, old-fashioned.

Open Workspaces, Good Or Bad?

Open-plan workspaces, on the other hand, appear to be modern and more hip. The majority of offices in the United States are open spaces. They’re also expected to promote collaboration and creativity. Open areas physically break down silos in an organization. It’s simply easier to communicate and collaborate with each other when there are no actual walls to contend with. The expectation is that, by breaking down physical walls, we’re also breaking down barriers to information sharing and collaboration.

On the other hand, open-plan offices have their disadvantages.

According to a study by the international design company Gensler, open spaces cause employees to be distracted. It’s particularly problematic for those whose jobs require focus and concentration, such as in programming, writing, and reading.

All this open space gets more problematic the higher the number of employees sharing that space. With more people in an open office, there are more distractions and interruptions, greater noise, and higher likelihood of crosstalking.

But employers increasingly prefer the open office plan; 70% of offices in the United States are open workspaces!

So what about all the brouhaha about interruptions and distractions? Will we ever be as productive again as when we had our own offices?

Vivian Gang’s article in Business Insider claims a few tweaks in an open-plan workspace can boost employees’ productivity. These are my favourite suggestions from that article:

Increasing Productivity in an Open Workspace

Moveable furniture

Rather, reconfigurable furniture. Gang says employees should be able to either work individually or in collaboration with others, and office furniture should be able to switch between these two modes.

While don’t have transforming furniture, but I think clear spaces for individual work vs. collaboration is also a good alternative. For example, this post recommends having a designated space with the 5Cs: Centrally located; Comfortable; Coffee; Connected to the outside world (e.g., through a television); and, Clean. This space is meant to draw employees to connect with each other and build camaraderie.

Small spaces for thinking

Another suggestion from Gang is to have small private spaces. These can be offices, or can be created when needed by moving furniture and desks. I prefer a room with a door, but in a pinch, a small couch facing away from everybody else would do.

Areas that promote collaboration

Don’t forget dedicating space just for collaboration. Nothing beats the good ol’ conference room for being a collaborative space, especially with a great big white board, internet connectivity, and moveable furniture (to accommodate a variety of brainstorming and team building activities).

How To Create A Workspace That Enhances Productivity

Whether or not you’re in an enclosed office or an open workspace, there are ways to support your productivity:

Lighting

Adequate light is crucial. I prefer natural light (which is why all the windows in our new office is a plus), but you’ll also need task lighting for reading, writing, etc. Also make sure any light source isn’t reflecting off of your computer monitor.

Silence

Keep noise levels down. People who work in open-plan offices manufacture silence by donning headphones. Watch out for other sources of noise, such as street traffic. There are various ways to decrease noise, such as by installing soft flooring (e.g., padded carpeting), minimizing hard surfaces, etc.

Plants

My favourite way to have a productive office is by using plants. Not only are plants aesthetically pleasing, they also improve air quality, absorb noise, and can increase productivity. According to various studies, plants in the workplace can reduce stress and increase workers’ productivity by up to 12%.

These are just some ways we can change our work environment to improve our productivity.

What kind of office do you work in? Do you have an enclosed office? Or an open-plan workspace? What have you done to make your environment be more supportive and enhancing of work? Share your experiences in the comments below.