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Is Your Office Space Making You Depressed? 5 Ways Environment Affects Productivity

Julie Thompson
Julie Thompson
business.com Contributing Writer
Updated Oct 24, 2022

If you want a leg up on the competition, consider your office environment.

Whether your employees work in an office or remotely across the globe, keeping their mental, physical and emotional health at the forefront is essential. Not only do office environments significantly affect productivity rates, but a well-designed work space can create an atmosphere in which individuals thrive. So regularly analyzing and improving your environment is important.

Not only does reworking your office’s layout and decor boost the overall health of your employees, but it can also increase your business’s success. You may not be able to afford a workplace overhaul, but even incorporating small changes may influence office communication, morale and creativity.

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How your office environment affects productivity

Graphic of coworkers in an open office

1. Plain walls impact company morale.

Let’s face it – most offices are drab. The standard wall palette ranges from eggshell to ecru, maybe with a hint of gray thrown in for good measure. While you don’t want to go crazy painting every wall traffic-cone orange, bringing a little color into your space can make a big difference in how your employees feel about coming to work every day.

Are you aiming to create a sense of calm? Look to Mother Nature for inspiration and go with shades of blue and green. Need to stoke creativity and productivity? An optimistic yellow might be in order. Finding the right balance of hues for your particular workforce’s needs is key.

2. Too much artificial light may cause fatigue.

A particular problem in the case of cubicle-centric workplaces is the abundance of artificial light. Spending eight hours a day being bathed in fluorescent light, far from any windows, is a recipe for depression and listlessness. And, as it turns out, the effects extend far beyond the office.

According to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the lack of natural light exposure in office environments can lead to employees suffering from abnormal sleep activity, with windowless offices often resulting in a tired and sluggish workforce. Offering a space with more natural light can create more successful and healthier employees.

Bottom LineBottom Line: Natural light improves our physical, mental and emotional health. Natural light increases our exposure to vitamin D, improves eye health, promotes better sleep and positively affects mood.

3. Too much noise can be distracting.

Working in a communal space ensures that, unfortunately, complete silence is a rare occurrence. While some employees are affected more strongly by background noise – the Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, for example, shows that introverts suffer more ill effects than extroverts – the simple reality is that a noisy work environment leads to an overall decline in productivity. Businesses that try to mitigate such distractions can make their employees feel less stressed and more productive.

4. The wrong floor plan won’t allow collaboration and privacy.

Open-office floor plans have been all the rage for years now. The initial thought behind them was that they would remove the feeling of separation between management and staff and encourage a more dynamic and collaborative work environment.

While those benefits can certainly arise from implementing an open floor plan, the unavoidable reality is that they create a distinct lack of privacy. This absence of personal space not only interrupts employees’ focus but can also make them feel like they’re constantly being monitored by management. 

Creating multiple spaces is the best way to achieve harmony in your office space. A block of cubicles won’t fit everyone’s work style, nor will a totally open floor plan. Giving your staff a variety of spaces in which to move throughout their workday, depending on their needs, will show them that you’re paying attention to how the environment affects them and responding to that. 

FYIFYI: Working from home doesn’t mean your space automatically increases productivity. Distractions at home can be the same or greater than at a communal office. Consider offering remote employees a stipend for current technology, ergonomic furniture and good lighting.

5. A lack of nature affects mood and self-esteem. 

A lack of nature can contribute to a person’s mood and self-esteem. For decades, studies have correlated the positive effects of plants and productivity. Adding plants to a sterile office space can create a welcoming space that increases mood and self-esteem. 

Natural plants add oxygen which can help improve air quality in communal spaces. Better air quality leads to fewer headaches, fatigue and concentration difficulties. Plus, the added oxygen can offset dangerous chemicals from furniture, synthetic fabrics and machinery.

Tips for improving your office environment

graphic of a man working at an office desk

You can create a more positive work space, working on improving one element at a time. Many alterations can be incorporated easily through little changes. Other improvements, such as a better lighting system, might require more time and money. Still, any adjustment can help your office’s environment and boost the well-being of your employees. Here is a checklist of a few things you can address:

  • Add color: Whether you’re starting a business or wanting to improve working conditions for your existing employees, you must recognize the importance of color. Buying a few cans of paint, along with rearranging, can transform your space from a place they dread to where they’re happy and thriving.
  • Bring in more natural light: If your budget allows, consider installing bigger windows, glass walls or putting in a skylight. Budget-friendly options include installing mirrors (instead of covering existing windows with curtains or blinds), painting the walls a lighter color or upgrading light bulbs to exude more natural light.
  • Turn down the noise (pollution): Possible fixes for noise issues could include:
    • Providing noise-canceling headphones to your employees.
    • Installing white noise machines around the office.
    • Instituting and enforcing daily quiet hours.
  • Design your workplace with tasks in mind: Building open collaboration areas along with cubicles, conference rooms, co-working spaces and social retreats means your employees can tailor their physical surroundings to the job they need to do at that moment. In addition, multiple areas provide cognitive support and the tools they need to do their best work.
  • Create a natural motivation boost with plants: The addition of a little greenery can improve the office atmosphere by offering physical, emotional and other benefits, according to a study in the Journal of Environmental Horticulture. For example, plants will purify the air in the room and can reduce stress and depression.

Additional reporting by Meredith Wood.

Image Credit: Stokkete/Shutterstock
Julie Thompson
Julie Thompson
business.com Contributing Writer
Julie Thompson is a professional content writer who has worked with a diverse group of professional clients, including online agencies, tech startups and global entrepreneurs. Julie has also written articles covering current business trends, compliance, and finance.