It’s hard to deny; for those of us working a typical nine to five or freelancing full-time, we spend an extortionate part of our day sitting at our desks. An astonishing 81% of us spend up to nine hours each day at our desks, with 64% of us admitting our office environment has had a negative impact on our health.
With the average British working week lasting anywhere between 37 to 42 hours, we spend a lot of time at our desks throughout our working lives. While some researchers have suggested messy desks could be a sign of creative genius, our overall office space has shown strong links to productivity and performance, as well as a small impact in overall feelings of well-being.
The more we enjoy and like the environment we are in, the more engaged, productive, happy, and healthy we feel. It’s time to ditch the overflowing inboxes and to-do piles, say no to sterile offices, and find ways to make even the smallest open-plan office space feel more like a space we can feel good about spending time in.
Seven small (but effective) ways you can change your workspace to increase your productivity and well-being
Sit less, do more – switching to a sit-stand desk could have an impact on your productivity and physical well-being. Apple CEO Tim Cook famously called sitting ‘the new cancer’ as he introduced standing desks for all employees in mid-2018. According to a survey published in the British Medical Journal by experts from the University of Leicester, sit-stand desks can help improve our productivity whilst decreasing problems associated with sitting regularly over a long period.
Researchers studied 146 NHS staff over the course of 12 months. Over half switched their regular desks for sit-stand workstations, whilst the remainder acted as a control group. Results revealed that those who went from sedentary to standing more often reported better engagement with their work and fewer musculoskeletal problems. By the end of the study, those using the new desks spent an average of 82 minutes less sitting at their desks.
Clean and green (without going minimalist) – keeping your desk clear but personal, with a view of at least one plant could be the key to increased productivity. According to research, employees who work in offices with greenery are around 15% more productive than those without.
Desk and office plants can increase feelings of happiness and productivity, whilst spaces devoid of pictures, souvenirs, and other keepsakes can be amongst the ‘most toxic’. Psychologists from Exeter University found that office spaces where employees are able to actively engage with their surroundings were overall better, more productive workers.
Make the space your own – personalising your workspace can be a good way to make it feel cosier, more intimate, comforting, and comfortable. Narrow desks, cramped walkways, and loud open plan offices can lead to a more impersonal or cluttered feel. Take back the blank desk backboards and make every precious inch of desk space count.
If visualising helps you to feel more productive or allocate your time most efficiently, try adding a small whiteboard, bulletin board, or to-do list pad to your space. These can not only help you stay feeling on top of things but can have the added therapeutic benefit of getting to tick things off as you are done. This can not only be motivational as you physically see your progress, according to psychologists, but our brains also love ordered tasks.
Studies have shown people perform better when they write down what they need to do, as almost all of us struggle with getting things done from time to time. To-do lists can help dampen our feelings of anxiety, increase our feelings of control, give us a sense of structure, whilst providing a sense of achievement when we look back over what progress we have made over the past day, week, month or quarter.
If your company has a policy against personal photos or keepsakes, you can still make your desk feel more personal and calming with small touches. Items such as motivational stationery, positive post-it notes with good feedback or comments from colleagues, as well as simple stress toys that can help take your mind off of things when you are feeling the pressure.
Turn up the light – whether you experience SAD (seasonal affective disorder) or you’re just unlucky enough to have a desk away from the window, light therapy can help boost your mood and sense of well-being. Studies have suggested white or coloured lights may be able to decrease feelings of depression. If possible, being close to a natural source of light is best and avoiding harsh fluorescent office lighting is recommended. Try switching to daylight bulbs if possible to give your office a more natural feel.
Choose comfort over style – optimising your space for comfort is key. Your physical well-being can have a huge impact on your overall sense of wellness, making your comfort a key component to creating a workspace that is all about you.
Make sure you are looking after your back by setting the correct height to your chair. Pick up a footrest if you need one (your feet shouldn’t be resting on the casters under your chair), and make sure you have a write rest if you find your hands bent at an unnatural angle whilst you type. Switching to a bigger screen (or going multi-screen) can help ease the strain if you are working on a laptop or smaller desktop computer.
It’s a requirement for employers to offer workplace risk assessments – this includes your desk space. If there are small things that are causing you discomfort, pain, stress or strain, it can be worth talking to HR or the relevant person to ask them to provide you with the necessary equipment.
Turn down the noise – we (almost) all love a bit of background music, but according to scientists, listening to music as we work may actually hinder our productivity. Unless working on repetitive tasks, listening to music can be more distracting than motivating.
Experts recommend instead listening to music 10-15 minutes before you start serious work, as this still allows time to enjoy music without being too distracted. If your office has the radio on in the background and you’re on a deadline, need time to brainstorm or focus, it could be time to invest in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
Be open to change – it’s time to start seeing your workspace in a new way. Think about the way in which you work; if a process or system isn’t perfect, you (or your team) probably make active changes, small tweaks to how things are done, or allow things to naturally progress and evolve as you discover new, better, more optimised ways to do things or new goals need to be met. Why should your workspace be any different?
In the winter months, you may benefit more from a daylight bulb that can reduce feelings of tiredness and low mood often associated with SAD, while during the naturally brighter spring and summer you may want to shift things around to get closer to natural sources of light. Don’t feel locked into a single solution.
If you’re in an office where you can’t control the placement of your desk, you can still change other factors to find out what best works for you. There’s no right or wrong; as long as it’s making you feel more productive, relaxed, and motivated (and it isn’t negatively impacting your office mates) that’s what really matters.