Tips on enhancing employee productivity in the workplace

What the FM can do to contribute to employee productivity

by Diane Coles Levine — May 2017 — We live in an age where facts are questioned as real or fake.  In workplace strategy, we rely on facts from peer-reviewed, evidence-based design research that is carefully vetted by a body of academics.  This research demonstrates how workplace design can positively impact employee productivity.  Yet, when companies plan or change their work spaces, they’re often unaware of, or, unfamiliar with this body of knowledge and move forward not thinking about how their workplace decisions can impact employee performance (good or bad).  Using Dr. Sally Augustin’s bibliography of workplace research titled “Applying What Scientists Know About Where and How People Work Best,” this article provides tips to help you make better informed decisions on enhancing employee productivity.

Understand employee satisfaction with your workplace

Research from the Center for the Built Environment (CBE) shows that “people who are more satisfied with their work environment  feel  more  productive,  with  a  1% to  4% increase  in  perceived productivity for a 15% increase in satisfaction.” [1]  Sometimes what is perceived is more important than reality.  And, “satisfaction with the physical work environment has been linked to satisfaction with management and salary, which in turn are linked to job satisfaction.”[2]

Tip: Conduct regular employee satisfaction surveys to better understand employee perception of your workplace design and services.  And, act quickly on your employee feedback to make improvements where you can.  An insurance company in Long Beach California conducted bi-weekly surveys and increased employee satisfaction by 30%.   Imaging that!  According to the above-mentioned CBE research study, by acting quickly on their survey results, this facilities team increased employee productivity by approximately 2% to 8%.

The power of choice is very powerful

People by nature are adaptable and can adjust to new workplaces whether they like them or not.   However, imposing management’s will in workplace design can negatively impact productivity and morale and may cause employees to seek jobs elsewhere.  Consequently, empowering employees early in the design of their work space can reduce stress, improve employee engagement and well-being along with overall satisfaction with the company.

Studies show that “workers perform best when they have some control over the decoration (plants, art, etc.,) in their work spaces and, improvements in well-being and productivity are observed when workers have input into office decoration. Employees should be empowered to design their own work space rather than having predetermined space configurations thrust on them.”[3]

Tip: Involve employees in design selection to achieve early acceptance and agreement of their future work space.  This will reduce stress and increase satisfaction and engagement.  Design selection can include picking a chair or components in their workstation, decorating their work space, voting on artwork and colors, selecting plants, and voting on room names.

Attention to basic personal comfort is important

Any Facility Manager can tell you that people who perceive their space to be uncomfortable, whether it is or isn’t, are the biggest complainers.  And, “negative experiences with workplace environments have more ‘sticking power’ in our memories than positive ones.”[4]  Research shows that “when people feel they are working in a more comfortable environment, (in terms of factors such as temperature, noise, lighting, etc.) they believe they are more productive with differences in productivity as high as 25% reported between comfortable and uncomfortable staff.”[5]  And, “The better the occupants think the indoor environment is, the more likely people are to say they are productive, healthy, and happy.”[6]  “There is clear evidence that the health and productivity of workplace occupants is positively correlated with comfort and satisfaction.”[7]

Developing office lighting conditions that workers perceive as “good” is worth the effort. “Researchers show that people who perceived their office lighting as being of higher quality rated the space as more attractive, reported more pleasant mood, and showed greater well-being at the end of the day. ”[8]    Satisfaction with lighting can increase worker engagement. As Veitch, Stokkermans, and Newsham report, “People who appraise their lighting as good will also appraise the room as more attractive, be in a more pleasant mood, be more satisfied with the work environment, and more engaged in their work.”[9]

Tip: Pay more design and organizational attention to basic personal comforts like air quality, lighting (including daylighting), parking, coffee, food service, restrooms, and building maintenance.  Use benchmarking, building and usage data along with employee satisfaction surveys to examine issues and make improvements.  Keep in mind that skimping on the facilities budget can negatively impact employee productivity and engagement.

The less distraction, the better

“People working in open plan offices are more stressed and more likely to change jobs than people not working in open plan environments. Specifically, the high level of noise causes employees to lose concentration, leading to low productivity.  There are privacy issues because everyone can see what you are doing on the computer or hear what you are saying on the phone, and there is a feeling of insecurity.”[10]

Tip:  Design with acoustics and visual distraction in mind.  Consider using an acoustical consultant to make recommendations on products like sound masking systems, acoustical panels, and acoustical ceiling tiles.

One size does not fit all

Standardizing work spaces in a one size fits all scheme without considering how people work differently can lower productivity.  The CBE noted that people collaborating and people who are concentrating have different place-based needs, and recommends that separate workplace zones be created for each, to optimize worker productivity.[11]   Other researchers learned that design can result in a standardization of workplaces and “if the standardization process does not recognize the physical and behavioral environment’s importance for office occupiers by different work process types, productivity will decline.   Standardization can lead to a lack of personal control among employees, which is a risk factor for overload and stress.  Besides these risks, if the standardization of the office leads to sterile work environments, it may also have negative effects such as a decline of employees’ organizational identification, well-being and productivity.”[12]

Tip: Try not to make workplace design decisions in a management vacuum.  Get input from employees to understand work patterns and technology needs. Use as much available data on space utilization and worker requirements to drive design conversations and decisions.

Align your workplace design to culture and values

It’s important that workplace design aligns with organizational culture. As the British Council for Offices states, “Even if basic physical health and comfort needs have been met, and operational performance has been optimized, a workplace can still fail dramatically if it conveys messages which contradict organizational values. Emotional, communal and personal needs of users are either satisfied or frustrated, with attendant impacts on job satisfaction, productivity and job retention.”[13]

Tip: Ensure your space reflects your culture, mission, vision and values and it portrays what you are trying to achieve.  If you say you are an ad-hocracy, not siloed and collaborative, make sure your space design matches this vision and is not designed just the opposite, as a hierarchy with silos.

Go green

A post-occupancy evaluation of twelve United States General Services Administration (GSA) buildings in various parts of the country with an assortment of different uses (courthouses, offices, etc.) determined that “occupant satisfaction is higher in sustainably designed buildings.  Occupant satisfaction is important because it correlates with personal and team performance. That often means higher productivity and creativity for an organization.”[14]

Studies shows that “enriching a previously lean office with plants served to significantly increase workplace satisfaction, self-reported levels of concentration, and perceived air quality.  It also improved perceived productivity and actual productivity.  Simply enriching a previously spartan space with plants served to increase productivity by 15% as a green office leads to more work engagement among employees.  The results indicated that participants who worked in green office space were more productive than their counterparts who worked in a lean office space. Tasks were completed faster and— importantly—without any accompanying rise in errors.” [15]

Studies found that “workers prefer, and their performance is best, if a work space contains a moderate number of plants. This means that the plants, on surfaces like shelving and filing cabinets, should fill 7% of the total cubic office space.”[16]   And, “having even a peripheral view of plants from a work space increases productivity of knowledge workers while reducing their stress levels.”[17]  Surprisingly,  “workplace plants have been linked to higher levels of worker creativity.”[18]

Tip: Use a sustainability expert and design with green in mind.  Think twice before you remove plants or cut your plant maintenance budget.  Consider using an architect that understands biophilic design.


Dr. Augustin’s bibliography of workplace design topics is a great tool for explaining the reasoning behind work space choices and helps leaders make better informed decisions.  Paying attention to employee satisfaction and comfort shows your employees that you care and, as we’ve seen, this ultimately affects their productivity.  And, happy employees leads to better business results.

[1] “The  Holy  Grail  of  Measuring Workplace  Productivity.” 2012. Centerline, Summer, pp. 3-8. Center  for  the  Built Environment, University of California, Berkeley.

[2] G. Newsham, J. Brand, C. Donnelly, J. Veitch, M. Aries, K. Charles. 2009. “Linking Indoor  Environment  Conditions  to Organizational Productivity: A  Field  Study.” National  Research  Council  Canada,

[3] Craig Knight and Alexander Haslam. 2010. “The  Relative  Merits  of  Lean,  Enriched,  and  Empowered  Offices: An Experimental Examination  of  the  Impact  of  Workspace  Management  Strategies on  Well-Being  and Productivity.” Journal  of  Experimental  Psychology:  Applied, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 158-172.

[4] Adrian  Leaman. 2009.  “The  Great  Escape:  Understanding  Why  People  are  Desperate  to  Flee  Buildings.” Ecolibrium: The  Official  Journal  of AIRAH,  vol. 8, no. 5, pp. 18-20.

[5] Commission   for  Architecture  and  the  Built  Environment  and  the  British  Council  for  Offices. 2 006.  The  Impact  of Office  Design  on Business Performance.

[6] A. Leaman. 2003.” Productivity  Improvement” in  R.  Best,  C. Langston,  and  G.  De Valence (et al eds).

[7] Gail  Brager and  Lindsay   Baker.  2009. “Occupant   Satisfaction  in  Mixed-Mode  Buildings.” Building   Research  and Information, vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 369-380.

 [8]J.  Veitch, G.  Newsham,  P.  Boyce, and  C. Jones. 2008. “Lighting  Appraisal,  Well-Being  and  Performance  in  Open-Plan Offices:  A  Linked  Mechanisms  Approach.” Lighting Research and Technology, vol. 40, no. 2, pp. 133-151.

[9] Jennifer Veitch, Mariska  Stokkermans, and  Guy  Newsham. 2013. “Linking  Lighting   Appraisals  to  Work  Behaviors.” Environment and Behavior, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 198-214

[10] Vinesh  Oommen, Mike  Knowles,  and  Isabella  Zhao.  2008. “Should   Health Service   Managers  Embrace  Open  Plan  Work  Environments? A   Review.” Asia-Pacific   Journal   of  Health  Management,  vol. 3,  no. 2,  pp. 37-43.

[11] “The  Holy  Grail  of  Measuring  Workplace  Productivity.” 2012. Centerline, Summer, pp. 3-8. Center for the Built Environment, University of California, Berkeley.

[12] Christina  Bodin  Danielsson. 2013. “An  Explorative  Review  of  the  Lean  Office  Concept.”  Journal  of  Corporate  Real Estate, vol. 15, no. 3/4, pp. 167-180.

[13] British Council for Offices. 2006. “The  Impact  of  Office  Design  on  Business  Performance.”

[14] Adrian  Leaman  and  Bill  Bordass.  2007.  “Are  Users  More  Tolerant  of  ‘Green’  Buildings?”  Building  Research  and Information, vol. 35,  no. 6,  pp. 662–673.

[15] Marlon  Nieuwenhuis, Craig  Knight, Tom  Postmes, and S. Haslam. 2014.  “The  Relative  Benefits  of  Green  Versus  Lean Office Space: Three Field Experiments.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 199-214.

[16] Larissa Larsen, Jeffrey  Adams, Brian  Deal,  Byoung-Suk Kweon and Elizabeth Tyler. 1998. “Plants in the Workplace: The Effects of Plant Density on Productivity, Attitudes, and Perceptions.” Environment and Behavior, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 261-81

[17] V. Lohr, C. Pearson-Mims, and G. Goodwin. 1996. “Interior  Plants  May   Improve  Worker  Productivity  and  Reduce  Stress  in  a Windowless Environment.” Journal of Environmental Horticulture, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 97-100.

[18] Larsen,  I. Adams,  B. Deal,  B. Kweon, and  E. Tyler. 1998. “Plants  in  the  Workplace: The  Effects  of  Plant  Density  on Productivity,  Attitudes  and  Perceptions.” Environment and Behavior, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 261-281.


Agustin, Sally, PhD. 2015. “Applying What Scientists Know About Where and How People Work Best,” IFMA Foundation, Houston, TX.

Diane Coles Levine is the Executive Director of the IFMA Foundation. Previously, she was the founder and managing Partner at Workplace Management Solutions. She served on the IFMA Board of Directors, is Past Chair of the IFMA Foundation and was named the 2015 IFMA Corporate Real Estate Council Distinguished Member. She is an international speaker and guest lecturer at Vienna University of Technology and MIT Professional Education Programs. Diane is co-editor and author of Work on the Move.

Workplace Evolutionaries’ (WE’s) mission is to “change the world one workplace at a time.” It’s a global community of over a thousand professionals who care deeply about the world of work and where it’s going. Among its members are workplace strategists, change managers, facilities managers, architects, designers, HR professionals, IT managers, academics, and product and service providers. WE members enjoy three conferences a year, monthly WEbinars with thought leaders from around the world, a monthly round-up of the best workplace research and news, white papers, and a vehicle for connecting with fellow evolutionaries around the world. WE is a global Community of Practice within the International Facility Management Association.