Creating Productive Space in Offices

Workspaces are uniquely tailored environments that allow for people to create and produce within the confines of their walls. The design of these spaces is intended to blend utility, efficiency, and comfort for workers to reach a certain goal, whether that’s creating a new app or writing articles for a publication.

The idea behind the construction of workplaces inevitably imbues these environments with a visual aesthetic and physical personality that impact the individuals spending countless hours inhabiting these spaces.

Aesthetics can have a profound influence on human behavior; scientists are increasingly fascinated by the ways in which visual and spatial components affect human productivity.

Even as far back as 400 BC, Plato put forth the concept that physical aesthetics play a significant role in humans existence. Only now we have transferred our fascination with what material attributes constitute beauty with how they impact our behavior.

Dr. Ron Friedman, an award-winning social psychologist in workplace strategy, references a breadth of behavioral-science research that suggests how certain physical conditions can influence our work ethic in his book The Best Place to Work.

According to Friedman, seemingly insignificant aspects of our environment, such as the height of the ceiling and the color of the walls, may actually impact creativity and productivity. For example, a higher ceiling is found to increase creativity; an office’s red walls can cause employees to be more sensitive to failure.

Certain companies are taking the lead in quickly implementing research into their work environments. Google, for instance, operates its East Coast headquarters more like a liberal college campus than a corporate office.

The offices are reported to be constructed as a maze of cafes, play areas, outdoor terraces, and themed conference rooms. Google staff members have a multitude of naturally lit areas for socializing and collaborating.

Google spokesman Jordan Newman told The New York Times that he hopes the design will reflect the company’s mission “to create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world.”

And so far, the offices do in so far as they align with research proving the effectiveness of such office layouts. Natural light, for instance, is found to lower blood pressure and heighten levels of serotonin. Such settings also may offset an increase of melatonin, which can allow individuals to sleep better at night and be more productive during the day.

Also, smaller conference quarters allow employees to be more productive, as they can partake in private discussions while enjoying quieter sound levels. Casual social spaces allow more genuine bonding between coworkers.

But not all trends in modern, unorthodox workplaces are creating fruitful environments. In fact some trends undermine the exact free-flowing creativity they set out to construct.

Offices taking up the style of “open office” layouts are knocking down cubical walls to dissolve individual workspace for seamless co-working projects. However, researchers like organizational psychologist Matthew Davis, examined more than 100 studies about office environments and found that open office designs damaged workers’ attention spans, productivity, and creative thinking.

Originally conceived by workers from Quickborner, a company from Hamburg, Germany, open offices were an experiment in the ‘50s meant to inspire communication and collective ideas. More recently, however, people are discovering it to be damaging to both attention span, increasing stress, and also health.

A recent study by Danish researcher Jan Pejtersen found that such open layouts contribute to an increase of more than 60 percent of sick leave than traditional, cubicle offices.

Sociometric Solutions CEO Ben Waber told The New York Times that while open spaces inspire collaboration, so does serendipitous interaction. In other words, when there are spaces where employees can get together and chat, it facilitates productivity. Spontaneity between parties can be deterred when interaction is instilled, such as in open offices.

He cited Google’s success in rendering a balance of the two to form positive work environments.

“They’ve looked at the data to see how people are collaborating,” he told the Times. “Physical space is the biggest lever to encourage collaboration. And the data are clear that the biggest driver of performance in complex industries like software is serendipitous interaction.”

It seems that the magic formula for happy, stress-free employees is not simply found in either extremes–cubicles where people work like cogs in a solo machine or seas of desks that are all forcibly merged together.

As various businesses adapt their priorities to keeping up with advancing technology, elements like aesthetics and layout may get overlooked. But through all of the data-sharing clouds, electronic correspondence, and social-media outreach that seem of utmost significance within today’s digital-minded business culture, the tangible spaces where employees physically station themselves should still be regarded.

Featured photo courtesy of Pexels.