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  • Lara Schneider

How Can Workplace Design Optimize Employee Focus?

Monochromatic expanses of grey and beige. Drop ceilings with flickering fluorescents. An occasional motivational poster and business award plaque. This was the backdrop of NBC's popular mocumentary show, "The Office." I used to love watching the antics of Dunder Mifflin's endearing and quirky employees as they goofed off in their drab work environment.

Perhaps the show was so popular because it hits so close to home for so many Americans. Cheap office decor and careless design certainly doesn't create an ideal work place, but poor office aesthetics actually affect more than just morale.

Research shows that creating spaces that incorporate purposeful design and appeal to our senses can make us more productive at work. Intentional color scheme choices, lighting design, and even the textures incorporated into an office make a big impact.

Hues Talking Now?

Color psychology is a fascinating study of how different shades impact people on a subconscious level. It's no surprise that natural hues of blues and greens bring a calming effect, while brighter shades, such as red and orange have an energizing effect. Colors have emotional ties and innate associations, so inevitably, the shades surrounding the workplace impact productivity.

So, is there one ideal color? A study conducted by The University of British Columbia revealed it really depends on the nature of the task. Red tones enhanced focus and attention for participants for detail-oriented tasks by 31 percent, while shades of blue doubled participants' creativity and brainstorming. Too much white, on the other hand, can actually hinder productivity. This cold and sterile color feels bland and depressing and has been proven to cause eye strain and headaches.

Determining the right color scheme for different spaces within an office requires consideration of the function of that space. For example, when redesigning Barkley's fourth floor to be a space for employee collaboration and innovation, Clockwork designers chose bright tones: The vibrant red work pods and cerulean blue walls for common spaces spark creativity and innovation.

Here Comes the Sun

Of all the elements of a drab office space, poor lighting may be the hardest to endure. Office spaces with dim or outdated lighting can not only cause strain on the eyes, headaches and drowsiness, but can even increase illness and absenteeism at work.

Many studies show the harm of not being exposed to circadian light, the cycle of increasing and decreasing light we receive from natural daylight. Being cooped up in artificial light all day keeps our bodies from naturally releasing serotonin and melatonin, making us stressed, tired and unable to focus. Being exposed to circadian lighting, on the other hand, is linked to benefits such as:

  • Increased alertness, productivity and concentration

  • Decreased hyperactivity, errors and accidents

  • Improved sleep and mood regulation

Obviously, good old-fashioned natural light is the best and easiest way to access this circadian light. It's always a priority when designing or redesigning a workspace. For spaces without access to windows, however, new technologies in lighting solutions now mimic natural daylight rhythms, with tunable LED lighting.

Getting a Feel for Balance

While light and color are often the first considerations for the ambiance of an environment, another less obvious but just as important quality is the texture of a space — not just the tactile consistency of the materials but the overall vibe.

The key to bringing an intentional haptic design into wow-factor workplaces is cohesive balance. For example, offsetting an exposed red brick wall with sleek green furniture could create a stimulating ambiance. Or adding an art installation to the ceiling of a conference room could elevate the originality of the room, therefore inspiring ingenuity in the ideas discussed in the space.

The truth is people are going to be more engaged and focused in spaces they find stimulating. Using a variety of textiles, innovative furniture, thought-provoking artwork, and even natural elements like plants are all options to consider. Infusing the company values and brand identity into the tactile elements is what makes a space really come alive.

Shifting engagement at work starts at a foundational level. Does your office reflect a sense of purpose that aligns with your company's mission in every element? Are you setting your employees up for success to innovate, excel and focus on their work? Our goal at Clockwork is to capture the vision of the company and create environments that empower businesses to carry out their mission.

Lara Schneider, NCIDQ, LEED AP ID+C, is operations director and an interior architect at Clockwork. How has color, lighting and texture played a role in your ability to be productive? Share your thoughts on Facebook or on Twitter @ClockworkAD.

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