By: Akiva Frishman  | 

Good Vibes: Paint, Plants, Design and Employee Productivity

Pods, Ping-Pong tables, and hammocks are only a few of the furnishings that symbolize today’s modern workspace. Once unique to high-tech communities like Silicon Valley, these sorts of upgrades are now found in many industries across the U.S. Amidst this growing trend in office remodeling emerges a fascinating hypothesis: An employee’s productivity is impacted by his/her physical environment. Indeed, a host of recent analyses indicate that the layout, design, and aesthetics of an office do, in fact, have a significant bearing on its workers’ performance.

Not too long ago, companies determined cost-minimization to be the primary factor in office design—employee amenities were scarce and comfortable seating was only reserved for clients in the waiting room. Inherent within this model was the notion that the workplace served solely as a means to an end: a locale for telephone calls, meetings, and other day-to-day business activities. Though economically efficient, this reasoning provided little incentive for an employee to enjoy her time at the office or even interact with fellow co-workers and consequently, it was often shown to hamper her performance.     

In an effort to curb the negative effects of poor office design, firms are experimenting with a number of strategies that are thought to encourage both creativity and enjoyment, and by extension, productivity. But how does the layout of the workplace encourage these sorts of results and which office features should firms focus on in producing them?

Regarding the physical layout—the choice and arrangement of desks, seating etc.—the latest findings suggest that the office should promote both collaboration and focus. On one hand, some theorize that an inviting and comfortable area in which employees can work together and share ideas is the most efficient way of promoting creative conversation. To this effect, many firms are replacing the partitioning cubicles with open, elongated tables and are creating spaces for group dialogue.

In addition, some companies eager to promote inter-departmental conversation are strategically placing restaurants, bathrooms and rest areas in an effort to maximize the opportunities for such encounters. Steve Jobs is perhaps the figure most famous for this line of reasoning. In designing both the Pixar and Apple headquarters, Jobs incorporated many areas in which a diverse group of employees could collaborate on various projects which he believed would generate better products.

But conversation is certainly not the only factor that could affect employee productivity. On the contrary, the majority of workers also require an area that allows for quiet and focus. To achieve this important synthesis, many firms are structuring their offices to provide spaces for private concentration in addition to collaborative settings. Indeed, a 2016 Gensler Report on the U.S. Workplace found that “Innovative companies are 5 times more likely to prioritize both individual and group workspace.” In other words, to maximize productivity, firms should implement designs that promote a social atmosphere but not at the expense of entirely forgoing tranquility.

The physical layout is but one aspect that can boost employee morale and productivity. Firms looking to increase worker performance ought to also consider the aesthetic features of their offices; these are often simple, cost-efficient improvements but yet produce notable results.

While the average worker likely spends more hours in his office than most rooms in his home, there is a clear disparity in the way each is decorated. In the latter, a person might devote weeks to selecting and re-selecting the exact shade that reflects the respective ambiance and purpose of each room. This is not the case for the former; “Off-white will do” is likely the rationale of his employer.

But in the same way that the right color profoundly impacts the home, it also influences the work environment.  A study conducted by The University of Texas showed that certain colors actually boost workers' attitude. Specifically, light green and sky blue were two shades that were proven to reduce anxiety and stress—Blue was also found to improve concentration. Moving across the color spectrum, red was shown capable of inspiring both passion and energy. Though paint choice might seem inconsequential to some CEO’s, these findings imply that it deserves more attention. If firms are interested in either easing a demanding atmosphere or promoting excitement, they would be wise to strategically consider their choice of color.

However, for a growing number of employees clocking out at late hours in the evening, color might not be enough. In pursuit of a high-profile career—especially in urban settings—many deprive themselves of sunlight and access to nature which could be harming their performance. Though one solution would technically be to excuse workers at earlier times, installing a few extra plants could also produce the desired effect. Exeter University studied the effects of nature in the workplace on employee productivity and found that offices with greenery were 15% more productive than their nature deprived peers. The research also showed that workers were more satisfied with their surroundings and reported higher levels of concentration. Plants are a relatively inexpensive commodity and with employees spending such little time outdoors it only seems natural (pun intended) that these sorts of items would decorate an office.

Businesses are not the only group that has considered the effects of a person’s physical environment. Yeshiva University recently updated its Wilf Campus Library and its features seem to be very much in line with the empirical findings cited above. The campus’s academic hub boasts specific floors for group collaboration as well as quiet, independent study. In addition, the interior offers an array of colors (including light blue and green) to promote both relaxation and focus and its updated exterior was enhanced with a fresh selection of greenery. While an official study has yet to be conducted, there is reason to believe that these improvements will encourage stronger academic performance similar to the findings observed in the business setting.

In seeking to strengthen its profits, a company is tempted to concentrate exclusively on spreadsheets, expense reports, and sales outlooks. But in doing so, the firm will fail to address the indirect factors that spur value creation—like its office design—and it will ultimately ignore areas for sizable economic gains. Businesses, employees, and students are all products of their physical environment and are swayed by the influences around them. So if growth is sluggish or A's are in short supply, a quick paint job and a trip to the local florist might just be in order.