When was the last time you felt productive, engaged, or even happy at work? If you can’t recall those moments, don’t be alarmed – you’re in good company. According to a 142-country study done by Gallup, about 87 percent of employees around the world are not engaged at work. In particular, Asian countries perform rather poorly in this study. Southeast Asia has the largest proportion of employees who are not engaged, at 73 percent, while East Asia has the dubious honor of having the lowest number of engaged employees, at only six percent.
Engagement and productivity are especially important for startups, where each and every member of the team has to pull his or her own weight for things to happen. It is the founder’s job to create an office environment that helps employees to boost their productivity, and hence feel happier and more engaged.
Don’t worry – you won’t have to bust out a Google-sized budget to create a productive working environment. Simple design tweaks will do the trick just as well. Here are five fixes that will lead to a more productive and happier office environment.
1. Use the right colors
Colors are commonly associated with different states of mind. For example, red often denotes anger, aggression and even danger, giving credence to the idiom, “to see red”. As such, it makes sense to use their psychological influence to stimulate or calm your workers accordingly.
However, well-known color psychologist Angela Wright points out that, contrary to popular opinion, it is the intensity of the color that stimulates or soothes, and not so much the actual color.
“What defines whether a color is stimulating or soothing is not the color, it’s the intensity. A strong bright color will stimulate, and a color with low saturation will soothe,” she said.
The picture below illustrates this concept:
In an interview with A Year of Productivity, Angela breaks down exactly which colors you should go for according to the type of work done by your employees. To summarize:
- Blue with a spot of orange is good for mind-work
- Yellow is perfect for designers as it stimulates creativity
- Red would be best for any work that involves physical labor
- Green would work for accountants, or any line of work that involves the exchanging of money
Of course, these are not hard and fast rules. PapayaMobile’s CEO and founder, Si Shen, had a different take on the influence of each color that she personally selected, with the aim of livening up the office.
The ‘AppFlood’ room, which is their main conference room, was painted red to signify being serious and alert, as this is the place where deals may happen or important decisions are made that influence the future of PapayaMobile. Meanwhile, the color blue was chosen for the ‘Papaya Reading Room’ to represent tranquility and wisdom.
2. Allow sufficient natural light in
Common sense dictates that there should be sufficient lighting for employees to work in, or they’ll spend a substantial amount of time squinting at their screens, which isn’t the most comfortable situation.
Artificial light can harm office workers’ sleep, activity and quality of life, according to a study titled “Impact of Workplace Daylight Exposure on Sleep, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life”. It reported that workers had “poorer outcomes in measures of overall sleep quality, sleep efficiency, sleep disturbances and daytime dysfunction”.
Furthermore, in a recent study, scientist Mirjam Muench found that artificial light has the more immediate effect of putting people to sleep.
“Compared to the afternoon, people who had DL (daylight) were significantly more alert at the beginning of the evening, and subjects who were exposed to AL (artificial light) were significantly sleepier at the end of the evening,” he says.
Simply put, it would be highly beneficial to situate your employees in a space that has a generous number of windows. Alternatively, if your office space allows for it, you could opt for a few large windows instead, like Zopim has:
Zopim’s meeting rooms are also surrounded by glass walls, allowing for even more natural sunlight to stream in during meetings. With this tweak, you can be sure that less people will fall asleep during your meetings.
3. If you want them to work hard, help them play hard too
All work and no play makes your workers dull. And indeed, entertainment in the office is one of the hallmarks of being an exciting startup – just look at the office of Google, with its volleyball courts and heated swimming pools. It is no coincidence that the company ranked number 1 on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2014.
Of course, Asian startups are no slouches either. Singapore-based startup Hope Technik surely rivals even the best the Valley has to offer as the proud owner of their very own rock-climbing wall – completely built by their own hands. All employees are given free access to the rock wall, and it is also open to their family members and friends.
The rationale behind this is simple: play boosts productivity in people, regardless of age. Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, revealed that play can actually lower stress levels and boost both optimism as well as motivation to move up in a company. It also improves concentration and perseverance.
At the same time, not every startup needs to go as far as to put up a rock climbing wall in its office space. Dr. Brown thinks of play as a state of being, rather than something inextricably tied to cool toys and gadgets. A state of play could simply be something you do for the sake of fun, not to achieve any goals.
“If you’re engaged in it deeply, that’s play,” he says.
4. Create alternatives to sitting at the desk
Science has shown that sitting too long can cause all kinds of chaos in our body. In fact, the Washington Post recently gathered a list of problems that could happen to us if we continue to lounge on our seats for long periods of time. Here’s a sampling: heart disease, strained neck, muscle degeneration, and poor circulation in legs. Specifically, the aches that are caused through prolonged sitting can cause our work productivity to spiral downwards.
It makes sense, then, to provide your workers with other alternatives to sitting at the desk. One popular option is the standing desk. Companies such as Twitter, AOL, and Facebook have been offering standing workstations to their employees, and the Draugiem Group’s research into them has shown positive results – higher energy levels, higher concentration on tasks, and fewer headaches.
The standing desk might not be a right fit for everyone, though. Mikael Cho, founder of developer and designer marketplace Crew, ditched it within two weeks as it ended up causing him to take one too many a break throughout the day. “This was fine with me because I often need breaks throughout the day to refresh and maintain a good flow,” he wrote on Crew’s blog. “The problem with my standing desk however was it forced me to rest at times when my brain wanted to work… It was hard for me to get into a flow while standing.”
A better way would be to give your employees a choice in the matter. China-based Wandoujia has created an office that encourages employees to move around and work wherever suits them best. Tyler Cotton, International PR Specialist at Wandoujia, says that many employees choose to invest in standing arrangements enabled by various adjustable desktop platforms.
Several other options are also made available. “In addition to normal work stations, we also have lots of other non-traditional work spaces and seating such as a lounge with couches and floor cushions, booths, two astronaut chairs, and a bar lining one wall where people can stand and work or have informal meetings,” he said.
5. Make food and beverages readily available
Everyone knows that a hungry man is an angry man. A hungry person cannot possibly keep his or her concentration on the work at hand. After all, food is the fuel that keeps the body running. Offering your employees food and beverages as and when they need them would certainly keep them focused and energized.
Most offices have a pantry, but only a minority are truly well-stocked. Zopim, for example, sends around a weekly “grocery list” for their workers to choose whatever they want to munch on.
Wandoujia also makes it a point to keep their employees well-fed at all times. “All floors have a fully-stocked snack and drink area with coffee machines, various soft-drinks, teas and juice, packaged snacks, and fruit that employees can grab at their leisure. Breakfast and lunch are provided on site, and some engineers developed an internal system for ordering dinner delivery, also covered by the company,” Tyler said.
Be wary of the type of snacks you lay out for your employees, however. Research has shown that food with a high glycemic index (usually sugary foods) cause your glucose level to drop rapidly after only 20 minutes of alertness, which will cause a ‘crash’ in your ability to focus.
In other words, it would be far more beneficial to hand your employees a basket of fruits with low glycemic levels – like dried apricots or apples – than a bag of jellybeans, according to this table.
Are there any tweaks that your company has made to the office to boost productivity? Let us know in the comments below!
(Image credit: PapayaMobile)Editing by Josh Horwitz and Terence Lee