Office design has come a long way from the endless rows of cubicles that were so abundant in times past. Open-plan now seemingly reigned supreme, and health and wellbeing are central considerations in the modern workplace, and for good reason. There is a vast wealth of evidence to back up the assertion that design which focuses on the people working within can have a substantial effect on not only health both physical and mental, but also on staff retention, happiness, and productivity in general. A recent study conducted by researchers based out of Imperial College London, working in partnership with design firm Atkins, has further highlighted the potential productivity boost that people-centric design elements could provide, and the resulting impact on the UK economy.

The report claims that by focusing more on people-centric design elements, UK businesses could see productivity gains of 5-8%. That may not sound like a particularly substantial figure, but the report also calculates that this rise would equate to an additional contribution of approximately £20 billion to the UK’s GDP; that’s equivalent to twice the contribution made by the aerospace industry in its entirety.

The study identified six key areas in which improvements could be made in order to bolster a company’s productivity levels, which are as follows:

Lighting – This includes both improving upon the provision of natural light, as well as improving the quality of artificial alternatives. We’ve written at length before about the many positive effects of natural light in the working environment, which include better sleep quality, heightened vitamin D levels, reduced stress, boosted creativity, less sick days and, you guessed it, an uptick in productivity.

Worse than not granting these same gains, artificial lighting can actually prove to be damaging to health and productivity if improperly utilised. Both dim and overly-bright lighting can lead to additional eye strain and an increased frequency of headaches, with fluorescent lighting solutions exacerbating this issue even further. A lack of focus stemming from an increase in distractions is also likely, particularly if the lights should start flickering.

Thermal Comfort – Uncomfortable temperatures, whether too high or too low, can have a noticeable effect on staff performance by reducing concentration and focus whilst also increasing the likelihood of certain temperature-related health problems (discussed in greater detail here). All of this will have a knock-on effect on productivity. Recent research further indicates that temperature-related issues in the workplace more commonly effect female members of staff.

There are a number of innovative techniques you can utilise in order to counteract these issues, such as the use of solar shades or exterior greenery, or you can opt for a more tech-orientated approach. However you choose to deal with it, temperature will play a larger role in the productivity levels of your staff than you may realise.

Ventilation & Air Quality – By increasing ventilation flows and reducing Volatile Organic Compounds and carbon dioxide, you can substantially boost the productivity of your team. We discussed the exact figures to have emerged from a recent study on the subject in an article which can be found here, so I won’t recap the same now, but air quality is definitely worthy of consideration if you are to get the best out of your workforce.

Noise/Acoustics – Noise comes in many forms, and all of them can be equally distracting. Office equipment is arguably the most common source of disrupting noise, but colleagues, visitors, and even the traffic rolling past outside can all become a nuisance to employees. It may surprise you however to find that volume is generally most the biggest contributing factor; rather context and relevance are key, as we discussed in our previous article on the subject. Exploring ways to reduce such distractions will undoubtedly benefit your workforce and their productivity levels.

Visual Elements – A well designed and aesthetically pleasing working environment will help to boost the mood and thereby productivity of your workforce, as various research project have shown. Greenery and natural forms in particular can have a pronounced effect on productivity, as can pleasing views and access to natural light, each of which can be improved via careful design.

Visual noise, meaning activity in your field of vision which leads to distraction, can also be an issue, and as such companies should look into methods of reducing this phenomenon; we gave some advice on the matter in a previous article which can be found here.

Interaction & Control – This point touches upon the issues raised previously, but with one specific feature in mind: control. Allowing workers the ability to adjust their environment or even shift locations entirely to suit their needs will provide your workforce and company as a whole with a substantial productivity boost as not all staff members will have the same preferences. Giving workers the ability to adjust factors such as lighting, temperature and desk setup for themselves will lead to a happier, healthier, and more effective team.


Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.
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