Whether we openly acknowledge it or not, most of us will agree that we are spending longer than ever in the office. In fact, a recent poll by Eurostat has shown that Britons spend, on average, 42 hours and 18 minutes a week in the workplace, longer than any other nation in Europe.
Yet, despite our enthusiasm for the daily grind, a recent McKinsey & Company study has lamented that UK productivity growth continues to lag behind other developed countries, including Germany, France and the United States.
So, what can be done to optimise the office and enhance performance? Here are a few science-based suggestions to help you create a more productive workspace.
Declutter Your Desk
Despite protests to the contrary, there is very little evidence to support the theory that clutter aids creativity. Instead, the presence of ‘desktop debris’ is likely to prove both distracting and disruptive when attempting to focus.
In one of the most in-depth studies to date, neuroscientists at Princeton University have proved that physical clutter in your surroundings can result in decreased task performance and increased stress.
This is because physical clutter competes for your attention and causes sensory overload, creating a stress response in the body that impairs creativity. Those working in open plan environments can be particularly susceptible, as they have less control over their office at large.
If you do find yourself feeling lethargic at work, take stock of your immediate surroundings and remove any distractions before reaching for another cup of coffee to make it through the afternoon. This could include filing away loose papers, removing old cups and organising pens, paperclips and staplers.
Optimise Environmental Controls
Your office environment can have a profound impact on your health and workplace productivity. For example:
- Poor heating/air-conditioning can lead to discomfort and health problems
- A lack of natural light is linked to eye strain, tiredness, stress and headaches
- Many offices encourage uninterrupted sedentary behaviour, which has been linked to obesity, heart disease and even cancer
The good news is that many of these risks can be easily avoided with proper environmental controls. Adapting your workplace design to make it more conducive to work can be as simple as setting the temperature correctly and pulling up blinds to ensure that offices are bathed in natural sunlight between the hours of nine to five.
All of these steps might seem like minor details, but by making a series of incremental improvements over time, the compound improvement from marginal gains can raise the performance of your team in an unmistakable way.
Just ask the British Olympic Cycling Team, whose commitment to marginal gains, in the form of handwashing, vacuum cleaning and environmental control, helped professional athletes perform at the very highest level without illness or fatigue.
Add Hot Drinks
Whether you prefer a frothy cappuccino or a traditional cup of English Breakfast tea, there is no doubt that caffeinated hot drinks play an important role in office life.
A report by the British Coffee Association suggests that Brits now drink 95 million hot drinks annually. However, just 25% of consumption occurs in the workplace, with many of us preferring to nip out to a local cafe for our daily caffeine fix.
Instead of sending your workers outside, consider providing tea and coffee making facilities on-site to create a more productive office environment. Not only is the benefit of caffeine for productivity well documented, but moderate tea or coffee consumption is actually considered beneficial for general health.
A recent study by the University of Colorado has even suggested that the act of holding a warm drink can make us more friendly, with participants who held a cup of hot (versus iced) coffee reporting others as having a warmer or more generous personality.
Invest In Workplace Wellness
According to the Fellowes Workplace Wellness Trend Report, most employees want to work in a healthier office environment.
The study suggests 9 in 10 workers would like their current employer to offer healthier workplace benefits, such as ergonomic office chairs, breakout zones or subsidised gym memberships for improved physical fitness.
Traditionally viewed with suspicion, office perks are now at the centre of an ongoing fight to retain employees, with 75% of staff reporting that they are more likely to stay with an employer because of their workplace benefits.
Of course, you don’t need to install ping pong tables and office slides to reap the rewards of workplace wellness. By adding a simple breakout area, you can encourage your colleagues to interact with each other and foster creativity.
Inspire Them With Art
Business owners are waking up to the potential of displaying artwork to stimulate creativity and discussion in the workplace.
As the New York Times puts it, “Often, artists are integrators: in many art forms, discrete elements are fused together (melody and rhythm, form and color) to create something that is more than the sum of its parts”.
In many respects, the modern worker also matches this description. Consequently, the presence of abstract art forms in and around the office can help serve as a behavioral cue for innovation and questioning established thought patterns.
Forbes Magazine also suggests that artwork can raise the perceived prestige of an organisation in the eyes of a prospective client or employee, making this an effective strategy for recruitment and new business development.
Keep Your Office Spotless
What may be a seemingly obvious suggestion for creating a productive workspace can also be one of the most frequently overlooked: keeping your office clean and tidy.
It’s hard to understate just how important office cleanliness is. Viruses can linger on telephones and keyboards for 24 hours, making an unhygienic office one of the major factors contributing to workplace absence.
Implementing a clean desk policy, conducting team tidying sessions and hiring contract cleaners can all support a hygienic office environment, helping to banish coughs, colds and seasonal flu outbreaks.
Not only does a clean office contribute to workplace health, it helps to boost workplace morale by enforcing standards of cleanliness and professionalism. It can also make an outstanding first impression when hosting visiting clientele.
In the ever-evolving business landscape, optimising your office space can be an effective way to see tangible gains in your business’ output, engagement and productivity, with a minimum amount of investment.