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Updated May 17, 2023

How to Design a Workspace That Improves Productivity

Rearrange your space and improve your work quality.

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Katharine Paljug, Contributing Writer
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Every day, businesses encourage employees to be more efficient and productive. There are dozens of ways to make this happen, such as implementing innovative technology and bringing in productivity experts.

However, in an office setting, workspace design can significantly impact small business productivity more than almost any other choice or strategy. Whether you have dozens of employees or work from home alone, setting up an efficient workspace is one of the best things you can do to improve your performance and care for your mental well-being.

How to design a workspace that improves productivity

Increasing business productivity is a multifaceted process. “Workplace productivity isn’t about getting from point A to point B in the fastest amount of time,” said Jamie Fertsch, director and co-founder of Xdesk. “[It’s about] getting the job done in the most efficient manner possible while still maintaining a level of happiness and well-being.” 

Creating a more efficient, productive and innovative office requires attention to several aspects of setup and design:

  • Individual desk setup
  • Overall workspace design
  • Elements that affect employee well-being
  • Company culture

Here are three steps for designing a productivity-enhancing workplace: 

1. Start with individual desks and immediate surroundings.

Desks and offices are the first things to consider when you’re designing a workspace. “Your personal workspace is one of the most overlooked factors that affect productivity,” Fertsch said. “Whether it’s rummaging through your drawers to locate an important document or having too many knickknacks, a clean and efficient desk setup is key to [workplace] success.”

Here are some tips for sprucing up individual workspaces:

  • Eliminate clutter and mess. Organizing your workspace can boost productivity. Make a daily effort to maintain a clutter-free, organized office and desk. Ensure that common spaces stay clean and tidy.
  • Provide organizational items. If you have employees, stock the office with the materials they need to get and stay organized. Those materials may include desks with drawers and shelves, folders, file cabinets, and organizing trays.
  • Stow personal gadgets. Smartphones, tablets and other tech devices can be time-wasting resource burns that encourage social media use and other distractions. Stow them away during peak productivity hours, or put devices into focus mode. If you have an office with many employees, create gadget-free time during meetings and group projects to help workers become used to disconnecting from their devices.
Did You Know?Did you know
An ergonomically designed workspace can boost productivity. An ergonomic environment creates healthier, more engaged employees who are more comfortable and alert.

2. Design the overall office layout for movement.

When you’re designing a workspace for multiple employees, it’s essential to consider how they interact with the whole space. Evaluate where everything is located and how item placement affects how employees move through their day.

Careful resource placement doesn’t mean everything should be so convenient that employees never have to move from their desks. In fact, your workspace design should encourage employees to move around throughout the day to simultaneously reduce stress and boost productivity.

For example, put the copy machine in a separate space or have a central water cooler. A separate kitchen or break room can also give employees a reason to get up and a place to take a break without worrying about who will see them not working.

3. Include some areas for uninterrupted focus.

If you have an open office plan, your employees may need places to focus and finish work without interruptions. If your setup has cubicles or desks near each other, designate private offices or meeting spaces that employees can sign up to use when they must work without distractions.

TipBottom line
Before you sign a lease, evaluate your office space needs to ensure there's enough room for private offices, workspaces, conference rooms and a healthy flow.

How workspace design affects productivity

Designing your office setup isn’t just about where you place the furniture. It also includes the elements that live — sometimes literally — within that design. These elements can significantly impact your employees’ physical and mental wellness and happiness at the office, all of which directly affect their work.

Consider the following tips for an optimal workspace design: 

1. Incorporate natural light into your workspace.

It’s long been known that lighting affects productivity and mood. In particular, the amount of natural light in your office can significantly impact health and productivity. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, effective lighting can decrease depression and improve energy, mood and alertness. 

Additionally, an often-cited study by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that a lack of natural light exposure in office environments can prompt abnormal sleep activity, creating a tired and sluggish workforce. 

2. Include plants in your workspace. 

When you’re designing your office space, consider how small design elements can affect mood, health and general attitudes about work.

For example, keeping plants in the office or on employees’ desks can be beneficial. Research on behalf of the Flower Council of Holland found that 70 percent of respondents said plants improve the atmosphere at home and in the office, and 31 percent said plants help them concentrate while working. Additionally, a University of Exeter study found that people whose office environment included live plants scored 15 percent higher on creativity than those who worked with no plants.

FYIDid you know
Your office space could be making you depressed if it includes plain walls, artificial light, noise and a lack of personal space. Rectifying these elements can boost your employees' overall well-being and increase your business's success.

Benefits of a flexible workspace design

A flexible workspace design incorporates many of the productivity-boosting design tips we’ve explored. Unlike traditional offices, flexible workspaces aren’t organized around assigned desks or closed-door offices.

In contrast, flexible workspaces use nontraditional designs to create multipurpose spaces that anyone can use. These may be workstations with desks, meeting spaces, open conference tables, comfortable chairs, private nooks or other spaces where workers can sit (or stand) and do their job.

Flexible offices provide the following benefits:

  • Flexible offices meet employees’ current needs. Flexible offices allow employees to find the workstation they need, instead of being tied to a specific desk.
  • Flexible offices boost employee interaction. Flexible offices encourage employee collaboration, movement and communication, thereby increasing productivity.
  • Flexible offices cut costs. Flexible offices increase efficiency by allowing businesses to occupy space with a smaller floor plan or provide space to telecommuting employees who are in the office occasionally.
  • Flexible offices are scalable. Flexible offices allow customization for changing needs as a company grows.
  • Flexible offices attract talent. Today’s job seekers, especially millennials and Gen Z, appreciate flexible work arrangements.
  • Flexible offices improve employee engagement. When employees get to choose the workspace they use daily, they tend to be happier and more motivated at work.
Did You Know?Did you know
Other productivity-boosting strategies include practicing yoga at work, encouraging employee self-care and maintaining a healthy sex life.

How workspace design and company culture are linked

A good workspace isn’t just about design. It also involves a strong company culture, which can influence employees’ well-being, investment and productivity more than any single element of an office setup.

“There will always be objective goals set in a workplace,” Fertsch said. “But productivity can also be personal, which is why it’s important to foster an office culture where employees want to give it their 100 percent at all times.”

Your company culture includes the values and behaviors that inform your work and priorities, as well as your expectations, goals, ethics and mission. Leadership teams communicate the company culture to employees by modeling expected work behaviors and attitudes. 

Here are some questions to ask when you’re looking to match your company culture goals to your workspace design: 

  • Do you encourage teamwork and collaboration? If so, you should have plenty of large spaces for groups to work.
  • Do your employees need to shut out distractions and focus on complex projects? If so, provide plenty of offices with doors that can be closed.
  • Do you expect employees to keep things strictly business at work, instead of socializing? In that case, you may want everyone to have individual offices.
  • Do you have strong environmental standards, even if they make things more expensive? If this is the case, your design elements should reflect your sustainable business model. For example, keep plants in the office and make recycling or composting easy and accessible.

As you create your physical office, consider designing an employee-centric company culture that prioritizes employee engagement and wellness. Make conscious decisions about your values and priorities, and ensure that your physical space reflects them.

Jennifer Dublino contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Katharine Paljug, Contributing Writer
Katharine Paljug is a freelance content creator and editor who writes for and about small businesses. In addition to Business News Daily, her articles can be found on Your Care Everywhere, She Knows, and YFS Magazine. Visit her website to access her free library of resources for small business owners.
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