Leveling Up Your Office Environment

A good office environment helps create a working environment that fosters worker engagement, focused employees, collaboration, creativity, efficiency, and productivity.  As an employer, creating an optimized work environment is one of the foundational elements of leveling up your office.  It is also one of the facets of your workplace where you have the most influence.  The essential elements of an optimized workspace are proper lighting, ergonomics, color, organization, plants and decoration, technology, break spaces, and company culture. This post will discuss these elements of a fully optimized workplace and how you can build an office environment that is organized, welcoming, and built for productivity.
Woman smiling in happy work environment

Office Lighting

Proper lighting is an important part of the functionality of an office environment, but when it comes to office design, it is, unfortunately, a case in which designers often default to a form-over-function mindset.  Rather than considering the effect that it will have on productivity, there is a tendency to prioritize aesthetics over usability.  Several studies have shown that lighting has an impact on productivity and that by optimizing the lighting, you can create a more welcoming and productive office environment.  Poor office lighting leads to diminished mood, increased stress levels, sluggishness, eye strain, and headaches.

Optimizing Office Lighting

Studies have consistently demonstrated that employees have a preference for natural lighting. They would prefer to work near windows or in an area with an abundance of natural light.  It has also been found that this subjective preference is also associated with work satisfaction and engagement.  So, it is clear that incorporating natural lighting into your office design is an important part of the design process. But, it is impractical to think that a modern office can operate solely on natural lighting, so it is important to understand the different types of artificial lighting and how they can be used to create the office environment that you are seeking.

What can make this complicated is that studies have also shown that different demographics often show different preferences in the color and brightness of workplace lighting and that these demographics are affected differently in terms of workplace satisfaction, productivity, and overall mood by office lighting.  So, it is important to develop an understanding of the needs of your team and to be flexible in how you choose to implement lighting changes.

Types of Office Lighting

A workplace will inevitably be lit by a variety of sources that often have different goals.  Ambient lighting is the general office lighting that provides the overall light to a space. This can be in the form of overhead lighting, sconces and floor lamps, or cove and valence lighting that bounce light from your walls and fixtures. Task lighting is light that is provided for a specific task or area, such as increased lighting in areas where paperwork or fine detail work is required.

Accent lighting is largely decorative and is used to highlight certain features in the office.  Natural light is the light from the sun that comes in through the windows.  As stated previously, employees have an attraction and preference for natural light, so office designers should prioritize maximizing the available natural light to increase employee satisfaction and productivity.

Flexibility in Lighting

A modern office is an ever-evolving space.  The needs and priorities of a business can change suddenly, and redesigning a lighting scheme each time there is a pivot can become prohibitively expensive.  Creating a lighting scheme that is flexible and responsive to changing office needs can help you stay one step ahead and allow your team to optimize their workspace according to their lighting preferences.

Office Ergonomics

Ergonomics studies the physical interaction between an individual and their work environment, in relation to posture, repeated movement, workspace configurations, safety, and health.  Workstations that are poorly configured can lead to losses in productivity and time lost for injury and illness.

Common Ergonomic Issues in an Office

As time goes on, we continue to develop a better understanding of how repetitive motions, poor posture, and the sedentary nature of office work can lead to losses in productivity and poor health outcomes.  Poor ergonomic setups can lead to musculoskeletal disorders, like tendonitis, lower back strain, and carpal tunnel. A workplace filled with sore backs and painful wrists will operate more slowly, and chronic pain leads to lower workplace morale and satisfaction, doubly reducing productivity.

Recognizing these pitfalls and taking steps to create an office that is designed to counteract them will lead to a more productive and engaged workplace.  The most common ergonomic issues in an office environment are poorly designed office equipment, lighting, noise, workplace design, and workstation design and height.

How to Optimize Your Office Ergonomics

The first step in optimizing your workplace ergonomics is to provide your employees with well-designed office equipment.  This simple step can minimize some of the long-term issues, particularly those that deal with repetitive tasks.  For example, ergonomic keyboards, and computer mouses have been associated with a lower incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome.  Quality adjustable-height office chairs can encourage good posture which reduces back strain by allowing employees to find the ideal ergonomic height from which to work at their desks.

It is also important to ensure that your workplace design does not require your employees to do tasks while in awkward and uncomfortable positions, as this can lead to muscle and joint issues.  Sitting for long periods is associated with several health outcomes and there are up to seven health benefits of standing desks, including decreased risk of obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, back pain, improved mood and energy levels, increased productivity, and increased lifespan.

Benefits of an Ergonomic Workplace

An ergonomically optimized office environment will create increased productivity by creating a healthier and happier one.  Chronic pain can lead to feelings of disaffection, distraction, and disengagement from work.  By creating an ergonomically optimized environment, your team will be able to maintain their productivity throughout the day, and it can minimize days lost to injury and burnout by creating a safe and happy office.

Office Plants

Office spaces, particularly those in aging buildings can suffer from poor airflow, high levels of dust, toxins, ozone from office equipment, and issues with heat and humidity.  In some cases, these issues can become so pronounced that they have led to something called Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), which has been associated with many illnesses and symptoms like throat irritation, breathing difficulties, dizziness, headaches, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue.

Not all workplaces suffer from this array of physical maladies, but you can imagine that even a few employees suffering from chronic symptoms at work are enough to cause poor and possibly worsening productivity.  It could even lead to a longer-term issue with workplace satisfaction and employee retention.  The exact cause of SBS has yet to be pinpointed, but there is a strong correlation between instances of SBS and poor indoor air quality.  Installing an indoor air quality filtration system could be a way of preventing some of these issues, but that may incur significant costs.

Physical Benefits of Office Plants

Bringing plants into the office is a great way of realizing many of the benefits of an air filtration system at a lower cost.  Plants work naturally to purify the air and optimize the oxygen-to-carbon dioxide ratios while reducing the amount of volatile organic compounds in the air.  The benefit of cleaner indoor air on productivity and mood has been well demonstrated.  Introducing plants to an office space can provide air purification while also providing other benefits that a mechanical air purifier does not provide.  Just a couple of plants per 100 square feet of office space has been shown to offer substantial benefits. Plants also help to absorb ambient noise.

Particularly if your organization has adopted an open workspace, plants can help dampen the noise levels by providing sound breaks throughout the office.  While also offering a pleasant way of interrupting sight lines so that employees do not have the feeling of working in an enormous warehouse. Indoor humidity levels being off in either direction can cause your employees to feel uncomfortable, irritable, and less productive.  Indoor plants are a great way to regulate office humidity, as they both absorb moisture naturally from their surroundings and release moisture back into the air through a process called transpiration. So, you can level up the comfort of your office by making sure that office plants have a place in your office optimization.

Psychological Benefits of Office Plants

The great thing about bringing plants into the office is that they provide both a physical and psychological boost to your workplace. Plants can have a big impact on our mood.  Many people find that a trip into nature has a calming and relaxing effect, leaving them feeling recharged and energized. This feeling is known as Attention Restoration Theory, and it posits that visiting nature can contribute to overcoming mental fatigue and improving our ability to focus and direct our attention effectively.  By bringing plants into the office, you allow your team to benefit from the feelings of rejuvenation that the natural environment provides. Level up your office environment by bringing a little bit of the natural world into your workspace and allow your employees to reap the benefits of increased productivity and focus, not to mention cleaner air and a more tranquil overall environment.

Best Plants For The Office

Office plants ideally offer a high degree of air purification and lower light and maintenance requirements. Plants make great additions to any office and provide physical and psychological benefits. Some office plants to consider include the: peace lily, areca palm, ZZ plant, Chinese evergreen, bamboo palm, spider plant, gerbera daisy, snake plant, chrysanthemum, and aloe vera. Depending on your priorities each of these plants offers different levels of air purification, toxin removal, and color palette, so you can be confident that regardless of your aesthetic preferences there are a number of plants that can add to the leveling up of your office environment.

Space Management

The past several years have led to explosive growth in different working arrangements and office structures, including work from home, hybrid work schedules, and flexible offices. This in turn has led to the introduction of various technologies to manage and optimize these working arrangements. Choosing the right vendors and properly integrating these technologies gives your office the best chance to realize the advantages that these diverse work systems can provide.

Hot Desking Technologies

A hot desking system is an integral part of a modern and flexible workplace arrangement.  It is a system that allows an employee to determine where they will be working while they are in the office.  Hot desking allows an employer to maximize the efficiency of their work area utilization by minimizing the amount of time that desks sit empty, particularly in offices that offer the flexibility of a hybrid work schedule.

In a hybrid work situation with permanently assigned seating, desks would sit empty for days at a time, representing wasted time, space, and money.  A well-implemented hot desking system allows your employees to utilize the workspaces as they need them without creating waste.  In many circumstances, a properly deployed hot desking system may allow an employer to downsize their overall office footprint while maintaining their flexibility, efficiency, and productivity.

Room Booking Software

Hot desking software refers primarily to booking individual workspaces for a period of time, whereas Room Booking Software allows groups of employees, team leaders, or executives to book collaborative areas such as conference rooms or presentation rooms whenever they are available.  This empowers your employees to create opportunities for collaboration, increasing the sharing of information and allowing for organic creativity and team building.

Visitor Management

In a hybrid working arrangement, your employees may not have regularly assigned seating, so this can create complications in the case of someone from outside the office, or from another location, finding them when they arrive.  Automating your guest check-in process allows for easy and seamless guest check-in, while also automating the notification process so that their host knows when they have arrived and can arrange to meet them.

Office Optimization Data

Optimizing your office environment will be a process and an important step along the way is to use data to determine how the process is progressing.  By analyzing the office usage and engagement data, you will be able to determine whether any areas are underutilized or whether any particular workspaces are contributing to lesser-than-expected productivity. This information can be instrumental in discovering whether you have the correct number of conference rooms versus meeting areas or whether certain workspace setups are not conducive to certain types of work.  This data will allow you to make adjustments on the fly to better optimize your office usage and get the most productivity out of your office space.

Company Culture

Company culture plays a crucial role in creating an optimized work environment. It encompasses the shared values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that define an organization and its employees. A positive company culture fosters employee engagement, collaboration, and productivity.

Office Communication Technology

The proliferation of intra-office communication technology has been one of the many factors that have allowed for the shift toward hybrid and flexible work. Apps like Slack, Zoom, and Teams have become ubiquitous in the workplace and allow for instantaneous communication around the world. Many of us do not go a single day without engaging with our co-workers via tools. But in some respects, these technologies have shown to be a double-edged sword.  It has been observed that some workers will choose to message co-workers that are sitting only a few feet away rather than drop by their desks to ask a question.

An overreliance on communication Apps can lead to a lower sense of worker engagement, collaboration, and the deterioration of company culture. It is important to utilize instant communication tools in a way that enhances rather than detracts from the productivity and culture that you are trying to create.

Optimizing Communal Break Spaces

Offering your employees areas to take breaks can be an important step in creating a team atmosphere and fostering company culture.  In many organizations, there may be little reason for employees from different departments to interact with each other professionally.  This separation can cause feelings of competitiveness or resentment between departments which can lead to unhealthy rivalries.

Offering employees a place to gather that is not related to their job description allows people on different levels from different departments to interact in a way that allows for relationships to build. Developing a team bond with other employees leads to greater engagement and productivity and better employee retention. Hiring and training are big expenses, and retaining productive employees is a financial win for the company. While it may seem counterintuitive, it has been demonstrated that taking periodic breaks from work increases productivity.

People are only able to focus on a task for so long before they become prone to mistakes and susceptible to distraction.  Creating an inviting break area makes it clear to your employees that you encourage them to step away from their tasks from time to time to recharge and clear their heads. Prioritizing the creation of communal break areas that are inviting places for employees to gather can be used as a small way for employers to show their employees that they are valued and appreciated. Designing your office in a way that demonstrates that your employees are valued is an important step in creating an open and collaborative office environment.

In an evolving job market, employers can often find themselves competing for qualified candidates. The pool of available employees has been shrinking for years, and notwithstanding economic disruptions, it would appear that employers will be competing for talent for the foreseeable future. As the younger generations enter the workforce, many of them are prioritizing company culture and doing work that they find fulfilling over purely financial considerations.

Creating spaces for team building as your employees take their breaks can be used as a recruitment tool and as a way to illustrate to prospective employees the type of company culture that you have created.

Company Culture Reflected in Your Office Space

A groundbreaking study on employee productivity began in the 1920s. It intended to discover under what working conditions employees were able to work most effectively. To the surprise of the designers of the study, no matter which way they changed the variables, they found that there was an increase in productivity.  This became known as The Hawthorne Effect. The study discovered that the employees were pleased that their workplace was invested in making them more comfortable and productive to such a degree that the companies’ mere participation in the study led to increased feelings of worker engagement and satisfaction which led to an increase in productivity.

While the study itself is a hundred years old, its conclusion that social and motivational factors play an important role in workplace productivity is just as true today. Making an effort at optimizing your office environment can provide tangible benefits, like reduced overhead and increased productivity, but just as importantly, it can provide carry-on benefits, like increased worker engagement and retention. These secondary benefits will continue to demonstrate their usefulness for years to come.

Working in conjunction with your employees to level up your joint workspace will create employee buy-in and reduce resistance to change. Include them in ongoing assessments and whether there is a need for tweaks and modifications moving forward. This will keep your team engaged with the optimization process and empower them to feel ownership over the place where they work. Placing a high priority on your employees in the workplace optimization process can offer real benefits in short-term cost savings and employee productivity, and long-term benefits of increased employee engagement, improved company culture, and improved office operational efficiency.

In the pursuit of a thriving workplace, optimizing the office environment emerges as a fundamental strategy for unlocking the full potential of employees. Through a thoughtful blend of factors such as lighting, ergonomics, organization, technology, and company culture, employers can shape an environment that fosters productivity, engagement, collaboration, and creativity.

By harnessing the power of natural light, understanding diverse preferences, and incorporating ergonomic workstations, employers can uplift the well-being and efficiency of their workforce. Additionally, the introduction of plants, effective space management systems, and a nurturing company culture further fuel the collective success of the organization.

By embracing these optimization strategies, employers propel their office environment to new heights, empowering their employees and nurturing a workspace that thrives on the foundation of growth.