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10 Office optimisation hacks proven to boost productivity

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With only so many hours in the day, it is crucial that all employees make the most of their time at work. But managing to boost productivity is no mean feat, as businesses have tried the age-old tactics time and time again.

Whether its imposing tighter deadlines, encouraging staff to work on the daily commute, or holding less meetings, there are numerous ways you can attempt to increase efficiency among your people. More often than not though, they only reap short-term gains rather than prolonged prosperity.

However, the following 10 office optimisation hacks to boost productivity have been proven to work by scientific studies or in-depth research.

1. Harness the power of plants

green plants in office

In 2013, the University of Exeter in association with Indoor Garden Design carried out an experiment at Chelsea Flower Show that revealed office plants can assist in boosting staff well-being by up to 47 per cent, improving creativity by 45 per cent, and increasing productivity by 38 per cent.

An eight-month study by the Texas University also explored the link between flowers and plants in the workplace and increased productivity, discovering that 15 per cent more ideas were generated when greenery was present.

Harnessing the power of plans could be especially beneficial in windowless office environments, as another study (Lohr et al., 1996) concluded that the presence of plants helped reduce mental fatigue, increased attentiveness, lowered blood pressure, and most importantly, increased the productivity of participants.

2. Let there be light

open plan office with big windows

Not only is exposure to natural light linked to the release of ‘happy hormone’ serotonin, which regulates sleep and boosts our mood, it can also raise productivity levels. If possible, design your office layout to maximise natural light exposure to the highest percentage of occupants possible, as this will noticeably increase alertness compared to sitting in the middle of a room under artificial lights.

“When you are exposed to 1,000 lux (the measure of brightness), you are getting enough light for full alertness,” says Oxford University neuroscientist Russell Foster. “But in many ways we are light deprived, with the average office lighting only producing 300 lux, which is less than we need.”

Lockheed Martin also managed to boost productivity by 15 per cent when it used an open office layout with integrated natural light. Officials believe that higher productivity levels pertaining to natural light helped them win a $1.5bn defence contract too.

3. Have water on tap – literally

bottled water cooler in office

Image credit: Radek Szuban via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

The importance of drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated is something most people know about, but few actually adhere to during their daily routine. This is despite the fact that dehydration leads to 500,000 hospitalisations yearly and health costs of $5.5bn dollars in the US alone.

What’s more, employees who are dehydrated will call in sick more often, won’t be able to process information as quickly, suffer from reduce brain function, and produce less work.

Therefore, it makes sense to have water on tap (office water cooler stations) or think of other ways to keep your workforce hydrated, which can include fresh fruit, refillable bottles for each member of staff at their desk, or even daily reminders to stay hydrated.

4. Get the temperature just right

remote thermostat

You might have to pay more in heating, but turning up the office thermostat could have superb productivity benefits. When the office temperature in a month-long ergonomics study at Cornell University increased from 20 to 25 degrees Celsius, typing errors fell by 44 per cent while typing output jumped a whopping 150 per cent.

“The results of our study also suggest raising the temperature to a more comfortable thermal zone saves employers about $2 per worker, per hour,” noted Alan Hedge, professor of design and environmental analysis and director of Cornell’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory.

The Indoor Environment Group of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has also examined the influence of indoor air temperatures on objective (measured) work performance in offices. It found that the optimum temperature for performance was 21.5 degrees Celsius.

5. De-clutter desks

office desk with laptop and plant

In 2013, researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute published the results of a study that said when your working environment is cluttered; the chaos restricts your ability to focus. A messy desk can limit your brain’s ability to process information too.

Another report by OfficeMax found that office clutter undermines productivity and motivation. “Your performance coincides with your workspace,” believes Jennie Dede, vice president of recruiting for Adecco. “When it’s organised and precise you have the mind-set and motivation to work.”

Last but not least, an experiment by Boyoun Chae and Rui Zhu found that people are more likely to persist with challenging tasks if they have a neat desk rather than a messy one.

6. Add a dash of colour

colourful office design

Image source:

In addition to inducing feelings of sadness and depression, the colours of your office walls can also have a profound impact on productivity. Low-wavelength colours such as green and blue, which are common in nature, have been found to improve efficiency and focus.

But according to the Pantone Colour Institute, context is everything. “Bright, saturated colours in an advertising agency may elicit energy and creativity. But they might seem overwhelming in an oncologist’s office, where muted tones can help staff – and patients – focus on their serious tasks.”

To find out which tones and tints will benefit your workplace the most, check out this list of the psychological properties of colours and how they relate respectively to the body, mind, and emotions.

7. All rise

man standing at office desk

Image credit: Juhan Sonin via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Although companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and AOL have introduced standing desks for employee wellness programs and to address the health concerns of sitting for extended periods, a start-up from Latvia has found they can boost productivity too.

“Compared to a period of time when a person was not using the standing desk, we found that standing led to up to 10 per cent more productivity,” said Julia Gifford of the Draugiem Group.

Researchers at Texas A&M also gave a group of students standing desks for a year. As a result, they were 12 per cent more engaged than their seated counterparts.

8. Consolidate with a multifunction printer

multifunction printer

By utilising HP Managed Print Services to manage and maintain over 500 on-campus multifunction printers, Bellevue College near Seattle has improved user productivity, leveraged IT staff, and gained cost savings.

“It’s like we hired 13 new full-time IT staff,” notes Russ Beard, vice president of Information Technology Services, Bellevue College. “Now we’re able to be proactive ourselves on the many mission-critical initiatives we were hired to accomplish, instead of running all over campus fixing printers.”

Even so, the distance between an employee’s desk and a multifunction printer will need to be factored into your plans for implementation, as more time could be lost through walking to and from machines.

9. Be loud about quiet zones

office private room

Open spaces can kill productivity according to research by Jungsoo Kim and Richard de Dear at the University of Sydney. “The loss of productivity due to noise distraction… was doubled in open-plan offices compared to private offices, and the tasks requiring complex verbal process were more likely to be disturbed than relatively simple or routine tasks.”

Scanning work from the Journal of Human Ecology, Academy of Management Journal and Administrative Science Quarterly, Tonya Smith-Jackson and Katherine Klein also identified reduced motivation, decreased job satisfaction, and lower perceived privacy as factors that negatively affect productivity in open-plan environments.

While open-plan offices can foster collaboration, promote learning, and nurture a strong culture, employees still need to focus alone or in pairs to generate ideas and process information.

10. Embrace works of art


Image credit: Advocate-art

“If you enrich a space people feel much happier and work better; a very good way of doing this is by using art,” says Dr Craig Knight, who has studied the psychology of working environments for 12 years at the University of Exeter.

Deutsche Bank is one organisation that has taken this advice on board. It has the biggest collection of corporate art in the world, with some 60,000 pieces across 900 offices in 40 countries. “Art offers a window into the social, political and economic aesthetics around the world and this makes it a good inspirational fit for our business because we live on developing new ideas for clients and reacting to what is happening in the world,” reveals Friedhelm Hütte, global head of art at Deutsche Bank.

Furthermore, a study by the BCA and International Association of Professional Art Advisors (IAPAA) to establish a positive relationship between job productivity and art in the workplace found that 82 per cent of employees said art was important in the work environment.


What do you think makes your workforce more productive? Even if you believe in the tried and tested ways to motivate and incentivise employees, it is difficult to ignore the aforementioned ideas, several of which won’t require much time, effort, or money to introduce either.

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