Cramming employees into a disorganized, uncomfortable or frenetic office isn't ideal. True, it can be tough for small business owners to find the space, time and money to spruce up the workspace, but making that investment might be worth more than it seems at the outset—because it's not just about aesthetics.
Those stacked boxes in the corner and that oppressive fluorescent lighting? Those and other stressors that, over time, will wear down your employees. One study by the British Council for Offices showed an employee's workspace quality accounts for nearly a quarter of his or her total job satisfaction. The study also found a more comfortable workplace can cut employee absenteeism by 15 percent. And that's not all—it increases productivity by as much as 20 percent.
That productivity boon should capture the attention of any small business owner, whose company depends on the thorough hard work of a dedicated, comparatively small staff. The best part? A full office overhaul isn't necessary. Many of the adjustments that have a proven positive impact on productivity are far cheaper and easier than that. (Get more tips on increasing productivity.)
Here are a few simple upgrades, rooted in research, that can help you ensure your employees are a bit more comfortable, and a lot more productive.
The Goldilocks Effect
Workers want their offices not too hot, not too cold, but just right. It's hard to say which is worse: keeping an extra sweater on hand for a chilly office or sweating through a business-casual wardrobe. For workers, both are bad, and both take a bite out of productivity.
Researchers at the Helsinki University of Technology in Finland found that an optimal indoor working temperature is 72 degrees. Crank your thermostat too much higher, and productivity plummets. There's a 2 percent decrease in workers' effectiveness for every degree the mercury rises between 77 degrees and 89 degrees.
Going easy on the air conditioning during warm months might be a tempting way to save a few bucks, but you could be losing more than you bargain for when hot employees have trouble focusing.
Let the sun shine in
A drab cubicle maze is no place to spend most of your waking hours. And when workers can't tell whether it's dark, light, cloudy or sunny outside, productivity likely suffers.
A study out of a California school showed the students who had the most daylight in their classrooms progressed 20 percent faster on math comprehension and 26 percent faster when it came to reading comprehension than their counterparts in more dreary classrooms.
Additionally, students who learned in classrooms with skylights boosted comprehension rates 20 percent faster than students without. While this isn't a study specifically focusing on workers, its results translate clearly to the ability to focus in a windowless environment, or one without a significant natural light source.
The takeaway? If possible, arrange your office to allow as many employees as possible enjoy the daylight. If not, perhaps encouraging outdoor breaks is in order.
Play that funky music
Stanford researchers helped prove that listening to music boosts brain activity, including the part of your brain that controls how well you focus and engage on tasks.
Over time, listening to music increases the brain's ability to anticipate events and sustain attention. Couple that with the fact that a noisy office is a surefire stress-inducer, and you have a pretty solid argument for giving employees the go-ahead to queue up their favorites on iTunes.
Provided everyone has headphones and listens to their jams at a reasonable volume, your office might start humming along a little more efficiently.
Spin the color wheel
It turns out a red office might make some workers, well, blue. The color scheme in an office impacts the productivity of workers there, according to research by professor Nancy Kwallek, who has studied the psychological affects of color on office professionals' performance for more than a decade.
The findings of one of her studies, published by University of Minnesota newsletter InformeDesign, suggest that individuals react to colors differently. Some who worked in a predominantly red environment, for example, worked more efficiently while others felt oppressed by the intense color. The same was true for workers who plodded along at a faster clip in a blue-toned workspace, which didn't stimulate other workers the same way.
Kwallek invites employers to survey their employees to find out which color schemes lend themselves to heightened productivity on an individual basis. It's clearly impractical to color-coordinate offices to match each worker's preference, but designing an office interior to subtly cater to multiple workers' preferences is reasonable. (Get more tips on office design.)
Image credit: TheChanel