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How Office Design Can Make Us Less Productive

Can’t concentrate? According to one reporter’s research, our offices are often designed in ways that may impede our productivity. The article addresses business offices, not in-home offices but the take-away seems applicable to wherever we work on a daily basis. So if we find it hard to get any real work done at our desk, it may not just mean we lack the ability to focus. It could also be our office’s fault.
Office design can influence how much productive work we get done in a day. If we regularly find ourselves listlessly staring at our work, we may want to consider whether the following environmental factors and workspace design choices are holding us back from our full potential – or at least the possibility of completing the task at hand.


office environment design


The Stale Office Air We Breathe

When we work in an office, much of our time is spent indoors. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the majority of Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors. And the air we breath in these enclosed spaces could be impairing our cognitive function. Bringing more fresh air inside, or having a good ventilation system, is linked to better performance, according to a 2017 study by researchers at Harvard University, Syracuse University and SUNY Upstate Medical.

In one experiment, the researchers recruited more than 100 managers, architects and designers in 10 buildings in the U.S. to take cognitive tests at the end of each day. Workers in “green-certified buildings” with good indoor air quality performed 26 percent higher on tests than workers in conventional buildings, even after controlling for annual earnings, job category and level of schooling.

The Poor Lighting We Endure

Being close to natural sunlight can make or break an office worker’s experience. Employees prioritize natural lighting so much that in a 2018 poll by research firm Future Workplace, they picked it as the top office perk over having a cafeteria, a fitness center, or on-site child care.
According to the article, that statistic is no wonder: A lack of natural sunlight can take a physical toll on our bodies, according to a study on 313 office employees led by Alan Hedge, a professor in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University. Employees exposed to more natural light reported fewer instances of eyestrain and headaches.

“With increased access to views and natural light from smart windows, workers reported 2 percent greater productivity,” the study stated. “Productivity gains (and losses) are connected to employees’ environmental conditions, so companies that create ideal office environments with abundant natural light and unobstructed outdoors views will reap the dividends.”


An Office With No Plants Nearby.

It’s suggested that perhaps we can thank the succulent on our desk for our ability to stay focused and get work done. We’re reminded that natural greenery in our line of sight is not just good company ―it can also help people concentrate, research on attention restoration theory has found. The theory holds that you can rejuvenate your attention capacity by looking at nature because when we enjoy nature, we are using effortless attention.
A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology comparing commercial offices with and without plants found that people at offices with plants reported higher levels of concentration.

In a separate study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, 34 students were assigned to do a reading test that required them to recall the last word in a sentence. The students who were randomly assigned to do this mentally challenging task at a desk with four indoor plants did better on the reading test than those who took the test without plants nearby.

Overall, before we even sit down at our desk and get started on the day’s work, there are a multitude of visible and invisible ways our productivity is being affected by our environment. We can probably add a plant to our desk, but we may not be able to switch to a seat with a high-performer nearby or to a desk near natural light. If 23 notice our workspace environment is less than ideal, we’re asked to speak up about it to whoever is in charge. If the office is in our home – that may not be a problem, unless we share with family members.
Research shows that many of us spend more than 2,000 hours a year at work, one way or another. The article summary is that given this data, it is best for everyone to make those hours really count for us.

 Courtesy Monica Torres,

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