How your workspace can boost your productivity

Red makes you hungry; yellow makes you happy; green is calming; blue is authoritative. You can’t argue with the fact that your surroundings affect your mood and your behaviour, can you?

Here are five recent findings from psychology and neuroscience that can help you arrange your workspace to improve your productivity.

Arrange your workspace the way you want it. You don’t have to keep it the way is was when you inherited it. Do whatever you can to make your mark on your workspace, even if you can only add a bulletin board to pin up your own photographs and messages. When your organisation’s policies don’t allow that, the next best option is to have workspaces nicely decorated by someone else, rather than bare and utilitarian.

A (small but interesting) study of 47 office workers in London were up to 32% more productive (in terms of attention to detail, information processing, information management, and willingness to go beyond the basic requirements of the job) when they arranged their small offices with plants and artwork of their choice than the control group, which couldn’t arrange their workspaces to suit their taste. The workers who controlled their workspaces also identified more with their employer and were more committed to their teams.

Choose rounded furniture (when given the choice) in a rounded arrangement. Curves are linked with positive emotions, which benefit creativity and productivity, while sitting in circles encourages cooperative mindsets. Plus, you hurt yourself by knocking into sharp corners and avoid the Me Syndrome produced when sitting in straight lines.

One study found that people find curvy, rounded environments more beautiful than strait-edged environments and that rounded spaces trigger more brain activity in areas associated with reward and aesthetic appreciation.

Choose colours and light wisely. It’s good to be able to adjust the level of light to suit what you’re working on. Low light levels and the colours blue and green have been shown to enhance creativity, and red has been linked with superior performance on tasks requiring attention to detail. Bright light is more conducive to analytical and evaluative thinking.

Use plants and windows. Lots of research has shown how office plants benefit workers by, for example, helping them recover from demanding activities and lowering stress levels; the right plants can even help keep the office air clean.

A view of a natural landscape recharges your mind; failing that, looking out at trees or intricate architecture can help you recharge. If you’re desk isn’t near a window with a nice view, take a stroll in the park to recharge.

Choose your level of tidiness to suit your key tasks. It pains me to say this, but maybe Einstein was right when he said:

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind,
of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?

Orderly or messy? It seems that sometimes messiness can lead to creativity. If it’s tradition and convention you’re after, though, you are probably better off going with an orderly workspace.

Discussion questions

How can you your arrange your workspace to increase your productivity? How can you encourage your team members to do the same?