Can we increase our creativity and productivity by changing our office design and decoration?

Is it possible to reduce stress only by choosing the right elements and colors for our work-space?

Recent studies indicate it definitely is possible.

In the last few years, companies and startups have been making serious attempts to incorporate findings of these studies into their office design and create happy, colorful, flexible and innovative workplaces with direct contact or reference to nature.

Gray offices without windows are associated with lower levels of employee creativity and greater levels of stress.

For many years big companies and corporations didn’t pay much attention to the environment where their working staff would spend half of their day.

Office design and its impact on employees’ mood and well-being was of no great significance.

They only started to worry, when they noticed negative consequences to their employees’ mental and physical health, which in turn affected their productivity and increased the days of absence from work.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “sick building syndrome”.

Several studies conducted recently to reveal the characteristics of an ideal workplace that can boost creativity and productivity and eliminate stress and distractions.

According to recent research “Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workspace” by Professor Sir Cary Cooper, with 7600 participants in 16 countries:

47% of employees work without natural light (7% have no window) and 58% have no plants

while the top five elements wanted in the office space were:

  1. Natural light (44%)
  2. Indoor plants (20%)
  3. Quiet working space (19%)
  4. View of the sea or natural landscape (17%) and
  5. Bright colors (15%)

Employees in office environments with natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight report 15% higher level of well-being, are 15% more creative and 6% more productive.

A window with a view

Numerous studies show that the most important factor for employees to achieve well-being and maximum performance is keeping contact with the natural environment.

Something which in most cases, (especially hi-tech office buildings) was absolutely forgotten and neglected.

Natural light positively impacts creativity.

People who have no window view spend fewer hours per week at the office.
Viewing nature through a window positively impacts productivity and creativity.

There’s no doubt that working in nature or viewing the natural landscape through a window is the most beneficial condition for great performance at work.

Indoor plants make people more relaxed, concentrated, productive, creative and happy.

Mimicking nature indoors, as viewing pictures, can still deliver the same benefits as the real thing.

What’s extremely interesting, however, is the fact that there are great benefits even when our contact with nature are potted indoor plants or just pictures, videos, and recorded natural sounds.

It seems that just resting our eyes looking at plants’ foliage can reduce our stress and calm us down.

The huge impact of color

photo: Mania Mavridou-DesignMania studio

For the same reason, colors and textures that refer to nature are the best choices for an uplifting and inspiring office environment.

⅔ of employees report feeling happy when walking into a bright office accented with green, blue or yellow colors.

  • Blue, green and white impact motivation and enthusiasm.
  • Blue, green, yellow, and white impact productivity.
  • Green, yellow and white impact inspiration and creativity.
  • Green and blue shades have a relaxing effect, while brown and yellow earthy shades and natural textures like wood, stone and bricks create a warm, cozy and homely atmosphere.
  • Red is a vibrant color that won’t help you concentrate, especially if you tend to get distracted easily.
  • Hues that contain red, like purple, some oranges and pinks can be good substitutes to pure red.

We get the best results from harmonic color combinations — a monochromatic space can be dull and monotonous.

Total white spaces and grey surfaces are not great choices for your working environment, although they seem to be a trend in contemporary architecture and interior design.

Unfortunately, a lot of architects are not really interested in human psychology, therefore they insist on designing ‘user-unfriendly’ buildings.

Lightning, temperature and natural ventilation

Another reason a lot of employees complain about is they have poor control of temperature and lightning.

A steady temperature in air-conditioned buildings, below 23°C (73.4°F) and low humidity are essential for feeling comfortable during working hours.

Natural ventilation through windows that allow fresh air into the building is the perfect condition for a healthy environment.

Good lighting conditions, adjusted to your needs is a very important factor, especially in case your office lacks natural light or if you work evenings.

Fluorescent bulbs, LED lights and bright screens emit blue light and keep us alert during the daytime.

Blue light exposure boosts alertness, helps memory and cognitive function and elevates mood.

For these reasons, I wouldn’t advise you to use them in the bedroom or try to sleep reading Kindle books with your tablet.

Private offices vs open-plan environments

  • 39% of employees feel most productive and happy in a private office.
  • 36% feel most productive at their own desk in an open-plan environment.

As it seems, it depends on your personality.

If you work on a creative job, you probably know that having others around can be really distracting. Another thing that most people hate, is the feeling they are watched.

Flexible workspaces, that provide privacy and keep noise out when performing demanding tasks, while they encourage communication and cooperation with colleagues when needed, are the best solution for large office buildings.

Choose wisely on furniture and equipment

Curvy furniture and environments make people feel more peaceful, calm and relaxed.

The reason behind this preference is that curved shapes are most common in nature. In addition to that, soft and curvy furniture are also more comfortable!

A non-ergonomic, uncomfortable chair and a cheap monitor is the most common reason you feel tired at the end of the day.

Sitting correctly is essential, especially if you spend most of your working hours in front of a computer screen. Also, don’t forget to take small breaks to walk and stretch every 50 minutes.

I’ll disappoint many of you, but you cannot sit in a proper and relaxing position for your body while working on a laptop.

If you should invest in something, this should be your chair and desk with adjustable heights and a high-quality computer screen.

These are my secrets for working countless hours without feeling tired.

Employees allowed to decorate their office are more productive and happy at work.

It still makes me wonder, how some people are able to work for years in unfriendly and depressive environments when with only a few tweaks, their place could look much better.

This is a really significant factor and it’s another advantage of being a freelancer. Decorating your workspace according to your taste and needs gives you another reason to love your work and feel happy at the office.

Sounds and scents should not be neglected

Being exposed to annoying, unpleasant and distracting noises is one of the most common problems in large office buildings.

Using sound-absorbing materials, fabrics and plants you can reduce noise inside a room.

A little noise in the background, however, seems to be helpful for concentration.

Classical music and sounds of nature lift mood, help concentration and boost creativity.

Listening to your favorite music or relaxing sounds of nature (like the sea or birds singing) is the best way to feel happy and creative during work.

It seems, however, that classical and orchestral music are most helpful with creative occupations and tasks that demand concentration, than other kinds of music.

People exposed to positive scents tend to become happier and less competitive.

The same goes for scents. Aromas of flowers or perfumed sticks, even the smell of our favorite coffee or tea, can lift our mood.

Just don’t overdo it! I once got a headache because I used more drops of rose essential oil on burner than I should!

Innovative design motivates creativity

Photo by Stephen Crowley on Unsplash

Several studies suggest that unusual environments and innovative design can increase creative thinking.

Dare to be imaginative and inventive, only be careful especially if you meet with clients at your place and you are not famous for your decorating skills!

In that case, it’s better to look for an expert’s advice to do it properly.

Is an untidy work-space an indication of creativity?

Although this would be a perfect excuse for lazy professionals with messy offices, it seems it’s not exactly like that!

As with privacy, it depends on your personality.

Some people can simply get sick to live and work in a cluttered environment, while others find it impossible to keep their workplace perfectly organized.

You’ll actually find studies that support both sides.

Being extremely untidy and disorganized will certainly cost you on productivity. On the other hand, being a control freak and a perfectionist will probably make you less impulsive and creative.

The ideal is somewhere in the middle.

That means, if you don’t spend half of your day at work looking for lost files or cleaning and tidying up your office, you’ve probably found the perfect balance.

A dirty office, however, full of dust and not naturally ventilated, is not an ideal working environment and can cause several health problems.

According to NASA, potted plants can absorb toxic substances found in interiors, providing a clean and fresh atmosphere. This is another reason greenery is necessary for workplaces.

photo: Mania Mavridou-DesignMania studio

In conclusion

There’s no need to invest in expensive furniture and decoration to feel happy, relaxed and creative at work.

A window for light and fresh air, happy and light colors that inspire you and lift your mood, contact with nature in whatever way it is possible while listening to relaxing sounds and favorite music, are easily achievable by anyone.

If you believe your surroundings have no impact on how you feel at work, you’ll be amazed when you experience the effects a few tweaks can have on your mood, productivity and creativity — like a lot of my clients did.

I am 300% more creative, productive and happy after my studio’s renovation a few years ago.

The only disadvantage I can find is that I have become a workaholic since then!

Mania Mavridou

This article was first published at 2 top American blogs for freelancers and entrepreneurs Millo and Freelancers Union blog. (2016)
This is an updated version (2019).

References for those who are interested in more:

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