We may often think of ourselves and our co-workers as individuals who would perform the same work in any setting. We would always provide quality work and high levels of effort no matter where we are doing that work. Or will we? There is a growing and significant body of research that identifies five critical areas of office design and operation(s) that can have significant impacts on worker performance. The critical factors are Lighting, Temperature, Furniture (Comfort), Noise, and Spatial Arrangements.


Lighting: Lighting has been identified as a key component of employee productivity. The proper type of lighting in an office is crucial. If you’ve ever gotten a headache at work from straining your eyes due to poor lighting, you are not alone. According to the American Society of Interior Design, 68 percent of employees complain about the lighting in their offices.

Office lighting should be one of the very first things taken into consideration during the office design phase. Proper office lighting can contribute to an employee’s health, attitude and productivity. It can also save money, so the company can focus on the continued well-being of its employees.

Artificial, harsh lights don’t boost health and productivity. Just the opposite. Artificial lighting refers to any forms of light that are not considered “natural light” – lamps, overhead light fixtures, etc. While some types of artificial lighting are beneficial, many offices use forms of artificial lighting that are either too harsh or too dim.

Not only does natural light in the office help our eyesight but it also boosts mood, energy level, and happiness, and promotes a general willingness to simply show up to work.
One study cites that 75.8 percent of employees find natural light important to them, yet only 56.9 percent are satisfied with their current workplace arrangement. If the statistics aren’t enough to support the claim that natural light is best, it is also shown to diminish the effects of seasonal affective disorder. In addition, choosing natural light is inherently a less expensive company alternative.

More lighting options in the office provide employees with a feeling of comfort and control over their surroundings. If an employee has the option to work in a pleasant environment, this comfort level will spill over into the quality of their work. If a company installs lights with dimmers on them, an employee can decide whether or not they prefer dimmer or brighter lighting, depending on personal preference and the project they are working on. This allows them to control how they want to work and in what environment.

Temperature: Something as simple as providing reliable HVAC that has easy-to-use controls can have demonstratable benefits.

Overall worker performance increases with office temperatures between 69.8 degrees and 71.6 degrees, with the optimal productivity around 71.6 degrees, according to researchers from the Helsinki University of Technology, Laboratory for Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning in Finland, a study published in July 2006.

Cornell University conducted a study conducted at the Insurance Office of America’s headquarters located in Orlando, Fla. That study determined that chilly workers were more error-prone and increased the worker’s hourly labor cost by 10 percent.

Typing errors of the workers dropped 44 percent and typing overall output increased 150 percent if the temperature in the office rose from 68 degrees to 77 degrees, the Cornell study found.

“The results of our study also suggest raising the temperature to a more comfortable thermal zone saves employers about $2 per worker, per hour,” Cornell professor Alan Hedge stated when the study results were released in 2004. Hedge teaches design and environmental analysis.

Furniture: The furniture should be a critical element of designing any space for maximizing productivity. It is the most common ‘touch point’ we have daily, and it is important to how we work in the space. With that in mind, below are a few additional considerations:

Comfort is King. When you are talking about office furniture, it needs to be comfortable. Your seat is something that will be in constant use by you, each day and it will need to be very comfortable to help you relax and concentrate more on the work at hand. Chairs should always be adjustable to suit different needs and uses of employees. This might seem like a small little thing but its impact on the productivity of the workers can be huge.

Complement Comfortable Chairs with Good Tables. Now only a comfortable chair will not be enough – you also need to have good tables to complete the workstations. A good table is of a nice size, big enough to allow an individual to perform all tasks with ease and place all essentials comfortably, such as a monitor, keyboard, files, paperwork, etc. Your desk should never make you feel cluttered. A nice working area will help you concentrate on your all-important work without any distractions.

Maintenance of the Office Furniture. It is very important to maintain the office furniture to avoid speedy wear and tear. This includes taking care of the new furniture as well as keeping an eye on the older furniture. As a team, everyone needs to take pride in what they have and ensure that it is kept in the best condition possible. This maintenance is also important due to the health and safety factors associated with it.

Noise: Maintaining a balance between a dynamic office and a quiet place to get work done can be tough. Taking noise control seriously can also seriously help improve your productivity. A study conducted at the University of Michigan’s Occupational Health Nursing Program found that chronic noise in the workplace caused an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Additionally, excessive noise can affect the emotional well-being of employees and cause them to be moodier or even depressed. Other drawbacks of a noisy office include: noise is stressful, distractions decrease productivity, overheard conversations are disruptive, noise inhibits multi-tasking, elevated noise levels make you more tired faster, impacts on ergonomics and increased slouching, and it can have a general lowering effect on employee morale. By designing a space to help limit and control excessive noise, you can best plan your office for productivity.

Spatial Arrangements: The final factor in how design can improve office productivity is to pay special attention to the spatial arrangements of staff. By properly planning your space to encourage collaboration and helping your most productive staff continue to thrive you can maximize your office productivity. A common means to ideal spatial arrangements is to look at the office organizational chart as well as conduct employee surveys to confirm which staff they work with the most. These tasks might highlight office adjacencies that were previously unknown or poorly understood. By situating critical staff functions nearest to their complementary positions, you can maximize the office spatial arrangement for productivity.

Conclusion: There is no completely foolproof method to create the ideal office layout to maximize productivity at your facility. Many variables can impact the various approaches. By understanding the underlying factors that can help improve productivity, you and your design team can implement the ones that will yield the greatest impact. The construction project is not an easy task. There are so many moving parts that it requires someone to be involved and keep track of everything. In this short blog, we will touch lightly on a few key areas you need to focus on to help your project have a chance of being more successful.

Evan Williams – Design Project Manager