White walls are not conducive to productive employees, research shows. Go for green instead – and bring in some plants too.
Colors influence the atmosphere, sure, but did you realize they also influence productivity? It may sound far fetched, but the research is there to prove it: the color of the room has a marked effect on how much people get done.
White may be the default choice for offices, but that doesn’t make it a good choice, according to a study by the University of Texas. Aiming at testing the link between productivity and color, the research found that everyone made more mistakes while working in a white room, compared to other colors. “White doesn’t help us be productive,” researcher Nancy Kwallek told ‘FastCompany’, suggesting the sterile quality isn’t conducive to work. “There have been studies that asked worker preference about environment and color, and the majority felt they liked to work in a blue or blue-green environment,” added Kwallek.
That intuitive preference for blue was supported by Kwallek’s study, which required people to work in rooms painted red, white and blue. The study found that some people found the red color distracting, but that blue was the best color choice for not distracting people from the task at hand.
Design group Herman Miller carried out some further research and found some intriguing associations between colors and feelings:
- Red: Stimulates the senses and can raise the energy levels in a room. A good choice for spaces that require focused attention on detailed tasks.
- Green: Evokes a sense of cheer and comfort. Green is easy on the eyes, and may even help people relax. A sound choice for a high-stress environment where people need to stay calm.
- Yellow: A positive color, cheery and hopeful. Go easy on yellow though, as people are more likely to lose their tempers in yellow rooms. Maybe a better choice for individual offices than a conference room.
- Blue: A great choice for any office environment, blue can put the mind at ease and open it up to new ideas. It’s a relaxing color which can lead to increased creativity and better brainstorming.
Color isn’t the only design factor that affects productivity. Historically, research has shown that sitting next to a window is great for your health, partially because access to daylight is so important to maintain healthy circadian rhythms. A study from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that access to natural light during the workweek resulted the survey participants getting an average of 46 minutes extra sleep per night, with fewer sleep disturbances. Window exposure also tended to inspire people to exercise more. From a business perspective, having people show up rested and refreshed will certainly have an impact on performance, both as individuals and how they relate to other members of the team and to customers.
Research by the World Green Building Council has also found links between office design and a host of health issues, from headaches and eyestrain to breathing disorders, stress and depression. Little things can make a big difference: performance drops by 4% when the office is too cold, but it also drops by 6% when the office is too hot. Businesses can combat some of these effects by allowing members of staff to use individual desk fans or space heaters, plus light lamps in winter to help with seasonal affective disorder.
If windows aren’t an option, bring in some greenery in the shape of plants. The research on this is clear: looking at plants, whether they are inside the office or right outside a window, helps reduce stress, improves people’s capacity for concentration, and aids performance on cognitive tasks. A 1995 study showed that having plants in the office reduced neuropsychological symptoms by 23%, and also resulted in reducing fatigue by 30%. This could be due to sitting in a more pleasant environment, the researchers theorised, but the greenery may have also had a positive effect on air quality: having a plant by the desk decreased coughing by 37%, and dry throat by 25%.
Perhaps the blue-sky thinking that business gurus talk about isn’t as crazy as people thought!
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