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The Career Hot Seat

Is Bad Office Design Hurting Your Productivity?

Office Cubicles


It’s every employer’s goal to maintain a productive and efficient workforce, but there are many common office habits and factors that can hurt output.

For example: Can being warmer make you work more effectively? What about the dim lighting that causes you to squint? Bad office design doesn’t just impact your mood, it can also impact productivity.

Work is hard enough, so it’s important to make the office space as comfortable as possible since research has shown that your work environment has an impact on how you function.  


Lighting is one of the largest energy costs of a building. Research has shown bad lighting can cause eye-strain and fatigue, which ultimately leads to more mistakes and decreased productivity. Lighting company Phillips has done research showing that simply raising light levels in an office increased productivity 8% and decreased accidents by 52%.

Access to natural light is also critical, particularly when it comes to distinguishing colors. Research has shown that exposure to daylight vs. artificial light enhances alertness and cognitive functioning.

Takeaway:  A mix of compact florescent bulbs with dimmer switches and natural light is best, so put your workspace near a window!      


 Office walls are often bland and uniform… as in white or grey. Research has long shown that color affects mood and productivity, and that white or grey can be un-motivating. Different colors have different wavelengths, and the level of that wavelength determines how much energy we need to exert to detect it.

If you feel anxious or stressed, low-wavelength colors like blue (calm) and green (restful) will have a calming effect. If you are feeling tired or down a high wavelength color like red (passion) and orange (stimulation) can be stimulating.

Takeaway: paint your office space blue and green and avoid grey.  


 When you are wearing coats and scarves at your desk and it’s 90 degrees outside you have a problem.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends offices maintain temps from 68 to 76.  However, research out of Cornell found that when the temperature of an office was raised from 68 to 77 degrees typing errors fell by 44% and output increased by 150%.

Takeaway: warmer is better…to a point. Raise the temp or drink some hot tea. 


To be productive, you have to be comfortable both physically and psychologically in your office space, so make it your own. 

From a physical or ergonomic perspective, the position of your keyboard, screen and chair all make a difference in how you function and the level of fatigue you will likely experience. Carpal tunnel and neck strain are common office problems. The key is to sit dynamically and avoid being stationary for long periods. Posture is important, so make sure your seating position isn’t causing your strain (105 degree tilt, feet flat on floor, knees lower than thighs…). 

From a psychological perspective, be sure to personalize your space and really make it your own. You want to feel connected and inspired by your space. I keep little knickknacks that remind me of where I’ve been and where I’m trying to go as inspiration.

Takeaway: Do an audit of your space. Make sure it’s physically comfortable and that you feel at home.




Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and the new on-line course The YOU Plan for Career Change on Udemy. Dr. Woody is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership. Follow Dr. Woody on Twitter and Facebook.

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