office space

The ideal workplace, according to science

Over the past 20 years, the modern office has undergone a number of evolutions. The infamous “cubicles” died at the beginning of this century and made way for open workplaces. In 2015, we saw a large influx of ping-pong and foosball tables to offices. As office trends come and go, there’s one thing that doesn’t change: the impact the office environment has on employee health and well-being.

Nevertheless, several studies claim that “knowledge-intensive” organizations currently do not pay enough attention to adapt the environment to the activities of their employees. The effect of the workplace on the performance of the employee is greatly underestimated.

Poor office buildings can cause users to experience symptoms of “Sick Building Syndrome”. Think of headaches, exhaustion, concentration problems and reduced work efficiency. Less productive employees do less work, have a lower contribution during meetings and thus create less value for your company. How about that?!

9 key focus points for healthy workplaces

When it comes to designing a workplace, you can aim for a trendy look based on renowned interior magazines. You can also let science show the way. Based on findings from psychology and neuroscience, here are simple and effective points of attention for an optimal workplace.

1. Personal control

Does your employer give you the space to decorate your own workplace? Then this has a positive effect on your productivity. In 2010, the consulting firm Identity Realization conducted a survey among office workers in London. The participants who were given the freedom to place as many (or as few) plants and photos as possible at their workplace were up to 32% more productive (than others who were not given this freedom). In addition, it appears that personal control over things like temperature, ventilation and windows improves your work performance.

At the American online shoe store Zappos, the employees have free rein in dressing up their workplace.

2. Air quality and climate

Based on research from 2006, it appears that good air quality results in fewer symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome. Research conducted by the World Green Building Council recorded an 11% increase in productivity due to more fresh air to the workplace and a reduction in pollutants. Other studies also link lower break frequency, less eye irritation, and overall satisfaction and health.

For indoor climate, the optimal setting differs significantly from person to person, due to different preferences and personal characteristics. For example, female employees are generally more dissatisfied with climate comfort.

Ways to improve air quality and climate include introducing a total smoking ban, keeping workplaces tidy, installing air filtration systems, optimizing humidity, adding office plants and opening windows.

3. Light and lighting

In 2017, the University of Twente and the CBRE conducted a study on healthy offices. The resulting e-paper “The Snowball Effect of Healthy Offices” tells us that 18% of respondents think they perform better with optimal lighting. A whopping 76% say that lighting contributes to their well-being. Other research from 2017 proves that lighting good light and lighting relieves the eye complaints and fatigue of employees, reduces motivation problems and improves productivity.

4. Plants and windows with a view

According to the same “The snowball effect of Healthy Offices”, 76% of the respondents feel more energetic with more plants in the workplace. 78% even pretend to be happier with a plant nearby. A study by the University of Queensland found that an office with plants can increase employee productivity by 15%.

Amazon has built the so-called Spheres at its headquarters in Seatle, where employees in the green are challenged to innovation and collaboration.

Another feature of an optimized office is a window with a view, preferably of nature. In an urban situation, views of trees or complex architecture are both associated with beneficial effects. A study conducted by the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis shows that employees who sat within 3 meters of a window reported an 84% decrease in eye strain and headaches.

5. Space and layout

The study “What Workers Want 2019: Europe” questioned 11,000 European office workers through a survey. 30% of European employees who work in an open-plan office believe that the layout of the office has a negative impact on their productivity. In private offices, this percentage is only 11%. However, the opinion of employees without their own agency varies; where 32% feel that flexible working has a positive effect on their productivity, 30% say that flexible working has a negative effect.

Offering different types of workspaces (a so-called “activity based office”) is a proven added value. Employees increasingly see the activity-based office as the optimal solution. This is because it offers the choice between different types of workplaces to perform specific activities. In your office, therefore, create brainstorming rooms, quiet zones, flex desks and informal meeting spaces.

At Coolblue, customer service has its own “canteen”, where there is room for relaxation and social activities.

6. Colour and light level

Choosing the right color for your office is one of the easiest ways to let your environment improve your performance. Different colors and light levels have different psychological effects. Both blue and green appear to improve performance in tasks that require generating new ideas. However, we associate the color red with superior performance in tasks that require attention to detail.

In addition, weaker/softer colors have been shown to promote creativity. This is probably because these colors promote the feeling of freedom. On the other hand, brighter light levels are more conducive to analytical and evaluative thinking.

7. Privacy and silence

With regard to important psychosocial characteristics, privacy and the ability to work without distractions are the biggest influencers. Employees need a certain sense of anonymity and don’t like the feeling of always being exposed. This also has a relationship with the workspace and the fence of the workplace. Research from 2005 has shown that noise can reduce productivity by 3 to 7%. For concentration work and consultations, the most optimal workplace is a confined space with little background noise.

8. Good posture and ergonomic furniture

The office should be a comfortable place. Using proper ergonomics can reduce muscle fatigue, increase productivity, and reduce the severity of musculoskeletal disorders (MSAs). Research shows that an ergonomic workplace can result in 10 to 15% more productivity and 1.5 to 2.5% less absenteeism than an unhealthy workplace. It is therefore important to be able to switch between sitting and standing positions.

9. Pleasant mess

The University of Minnesota found that in a messy environment, study participants were able to come up with more imaginative applications. This is also evident from the book “A Perfect Mess“, which claims that “people with highly orderly desks often have trouble finding things because their filing systems are so complicated”.

Product placement

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