How to maintain productivity in an office environment
Last updated on: December 22, 2021
Productivity is affected by stress and dissatisfaction. And these feelings can be reinforced in an office – people will begin to see themselves as cogs in a machine. Productivity drops especially in a corporate environment, where people can easily start feeling like cogs in a machine. All that starts to matter are the deadlines and client satisfaction, while their own is severely neglected.
There are multiple ways to address office productivity. Some are easy to implement, and yield great results, as you’re about to see.
Physical space productivity boosters
Allow people some personal decorative choices
Regardless of whether you have an open plan office or designated office spaces for different teams, you should give each employee a chance to express themselves.
They should be encouraged to personalize the space as much as they need, to feel more relaxed. Some will choose not to, as it reinforces their feeling of being at an office, which is also fine. But for others, a few desk plants, photos, a pinboard, figurines or as little as their personal mug can go a long way. These items are also a great conversation starter.
Decor brings some color to a person’s workspace, and the individuality they need to feel like a more important part of the company. As a result, they know their work – and them as individuals – are valued more.
Let in plenty of natural light
Remind your employees that the office space isn’t a prison. Just letting daylight in instead of neon lights will remind them of their workday progression, and when it draws to a close. It will push them to finish things on time, while closed-off spaces skew the perception of time, which can lead to more overtime and eventual burnout. As Rachel Hadler for Curbed.com so wittily put it:
“Specifically, LEDs — which are still the primary office-lighting source in the U.S. — can slowly drive people insane by flickering at an imperceptible level, giving them headaches and, in my case, the lingering suspicion that reality is a subjective experience.”
If your budget and rental space/building allow, break in new windows where it’s appropriate. Our office space, for example, has a lot of natural light coming from large windows all around the walls.
Of course, in the summer, it can get quite unnerving, but that’s white blinds are for. It’s incomparable how much easier it is to work when you are located by a window. Whenever my eyes get tired, I can simply look out onto the streets and the cars, and distant buildings. And as the day draws to a close, nothing beats the sunset view.
Focus on stimulating the senses
Before jumping to conclusions, we aren’t going to talk about filling the space with scented candles or oils, turning the offices into miniature jungles, or anything of the sort. It’s about simple little tricks that enrich the space, and thus – boost productivity through comfort.
Analyze the paint job on the company walls. A study by Nancy Kwalek and her peers from the University of Austin, Texas, showed that workers’ cognitive abilities and problem-solving depended on the color of the office walls. However, they emphasized that each individual could react differently to the same color. Whether they get easily distracted by outside stimuli, or not, for example.
Another useful thing to consider is decluttering. Rearrange the space, if needed – move around shelves, printers, and even desks if they’re in the way. For example, placing more coat hangers, so people don’t leave their jackets on their desk or chairs. The same goes for any wall decor. Clutter is both distracting and overwhelming.
Open plan offices can be a huge detractor when it comes to productivity. From my experience, and those of my coworkers (current and past), there’s nothing worse than a noisy environment, even when people are trying to work quietly. And after a while, even noise-cancelling headphones can’t help if your ears start to hurt from wearing them too often.
Designate spaces for verbal discussions, thus discouraging work station visits from one coworker to another, and having them disrupt everyone else’s focus. Give teams that need the most focus separate offices, or more quiet spaces of the open plan.
Air fresheners aren’t a must, since a lot of people find their scents too strong or invasive. What’s important here is also fairly simple: invest in quality air conditioning and ventilation. Lack of clean air leads to drowsiness and lowering of blood pressure, which speeds up fatigue during work.
Other forms of productivity boosting
Aside from keeping the office an overall pleasant space to work at, there are other factors that contribute to or detract from people’s productivity. It can range from the types of tools you use, to how you manage the staff.
Choose the perfect software
Depending on your industry, you’ll be using all kinds of software. Usually, the most basic ones we all need are:
- Time trackers
- Project management tools
- Image processing software
- Cloud-based services (like google docs, spreadsheets, Zoom, etc)
How can you use these tools to boost productivity? You make some well thought-out choices. Namely, you find software that is easy to pick up, easy to use, but also provides a challenge to truly master.
That way, less technologically inclined people won’t get frustrated for losing precious time trying to understand the tool. And for those more tech-savvy, there will still be a learning curve for more complex aspects of it.
Brainstorming sessions achieve team cohesion
Corporate environments are known to quickly slip into “grind mode”. Everyone needs to come and do their work to meet the deadline, and communication degrades to team chat messages, emails, and one-sided meetings that go on for hours.
To boost large office productivity, work on engaging teams into working together person-to-person. Find out what parts of their work can be done via brainstorming sessions, and ensure there’s enough empty offices to facilitate that.
You can prevent a lot of miscommunication and speed up the process while boosting motivation simply by encouraging people to work together more often. Additionally, if you have corporate-wide meetings (or emails), openly praise or thank teams that use this method. It serves as a good example for others, and an additional positive push in that direction.
You can also lead by example, and have meetings and brainstorming sessions in the same offices.
Conduct regular check-ins
When your workforce counts dozens, if not hundreds of employees, it’s crucial to keep a regular “pulse check” on their satisfaction at the office. Maybe they’re unhappy with their career progression, have struggles with the workload, or issues with other employees. And all of this is another factor that affects productivity in large companies.
Most people will avoid coming forward about their gripes. They even let them fester until it causes them to take days off work, or significantly lose their energy levels, affecting their health. So, approaching them first is significant help, and a step towards improving productivity.
Here are some starting points:
- Introduce bimonthly or monthly anonymous surveys with generalized questions about employee satisfaction;
- With HR, plan out 1:1 sessions for a more personal approach (let people voice their opinions, but don’t force them to, as some people have a hard time opening up to HR);
- Organize educational meetings and trainings concerning burnout, assertiveness, and treat it as a public forum to drive the conversation forward.
The more you help people understand and be open about the issues they have, less energy they spend worrying over their work issues.
Give meaningful, in-depth feedback
We’ve covered this topic in depth on our blog, in tracking employee performance (where we’ve also included templates).
Through performance sheets, along with the help of team leads and HR, you can get a good picture of how each department works, and which employees need additional learning, more challenges, and the like.
These also allow you to more accurately set performance standards and manage your expectations going forward with future projects.
Through timesheets that make it clear who is working on what. They provide a shortcut by making it clear when some coworkers can contact their teammates, and eliminate the need for updates. For example, in Clockify, you can enable employees to see the collective timesheet, and make them aware of what their coworkers are currently doing:
From this, I can see that, let’s say, Nadia is currently working on bug fixing, and knowing she needs extra focus, I can contact her in an hour or so. While Hannah had a client meeting I’m eager to hear how it went. Seeing how the task was over half an hour ago, I can send her a message, to ask about it.
It’s a great way to establish mutual respect for time. What’s more, people will waste less time waiting on a response from someone, and opt to work on a different task, for example.
Leave micromanaging in the past
This practice only serves to frustrate employees, and make them trust their higher-ups much less.
Work on keeping a loose reign on what goes on at any moment. Delegate whatever you can to those directly below you, but implore them as well to not hover over everyone’s shoulder. Other things you can do:
- Have fewer meetings – filter out the unimportant ones and limit to once a week or even once a month, for updates;
- Don’t spam email;
- Don’t contact employees outside work hours (and do try to relax on your own personal time as much as you can. Remember that others have different workload from you and can’t – nor should they – be available 24/7). A well-rested employee is a productive one;
- Have trust in others’ judgment – you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, nor the only one with the best solution. Give up some of that control, brainstorm solutions with others, and leave the decision making to yourself. That way, you included others in important matters, built their trust, but also lifted some of the weight off your shoulders.
Provide conditions for career improvement
One of the biggest productivity killers is the sense you lack progression. That you’re standing in place while everyone around you is moving forward. Especially at work, this contributes to greater unhappiness. Plenty of people will leave their jobs because they feel there are not enough ways to move forward in their company.
So, it would be in your and your company’s best interest to arrange with HR some career improvement options, like conferences, trainings, in-office education, etc. See to it that each awards some kind of certificate afterwards, which employees can put in their CV. Not only is it a great motivator, but physical proof of another skill they’ve gained or perfected.
Drops in productivity cost a lot, we know that. And we also know that it’s a sneaky thing that can creep into an office from multiple sides. It’s vital to find out where your workforce productivity drops and address it in time. We’ve discussed how, on the one side, physical space, the color of walls, clutter, and even smells can cause a decrease in output. And on the other side are lack of feedback, miscommunication, micromanagement, and more. Improving little by little on each of these fronts, you are bound to see some big changes over time.
✉️ Have a question for us? Is there a particular practice you’ve found to be very fruitful for your employees and company? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and we may feature you in one of our next articles.