The impact of green office design on productivity

by Matt Lee

Commercial office design can bring down the most “glass half full” optimist at work. Dimmed lights, stagnant air, and lack of an outdoor view can negatively influence mood and productivity. Shared work spaces, for all their perks, are not immune to the problems that commercial offices face. It all depends on how they’re designed. There are many ways shared workspaces can be optimized for happiness and productivity. Here’s a look at the green design principles that commercial workspaces would do well to adopt.

It starts with clean air

The quality of air within commercial spaces and coworking spaces makes a huge difference. The WGBC report confirms that commercial spaces that produce “high levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOC)” create air conditions that make workers feel languid and unable to think quickly on their feet. In a 2011 controlled laboratory test, researchers found that enhanced ventilation increased workplace productivity logarithmically by about five percent. Air temperature matters, too, as worker productivity lowers by four percent in a workspace that is too cold and by six percent in a workspace that is too warm.

Plants cheer us up in coworking spaces

Forget about the family photo to display on your desk. Science has a fancy name for a simple phenomenon: biophilia. Being around plants helps unleash creativity, reduce workplace stress, and improve cognitive performance. A 2014 research study released by the University of Queensland School of Psychology found that office spaces with plants increased worker productivity by more than 15 percent. The key is to ensure plants placed within a workspace are in plain sight. That said, it’s worth making sure that larger plants aren’t creating a physical divide between you and the people you work with.

Hardwood flooring vs. engineered

Made from solid wood, hardwood flooring measuring about an inch thick produces a natural workplace ambiance. There is a debate between solid hardwood vs. engineered flooring which traditionally focuses on the lower installation costs of the latter. However, the increase in productivity attributed to hardwood floors more than compensates for their cost. Paula Rizzo, Senior Health Producer at FOX News, says hardwood flooring generates positive emotions that help boost productivity in shared workspaces. In addition, Rizzo emphasizes that a brightly colored rug thrown over part or all of a hardwood floor enhances concentration.

Sunshine Makes Us Happy

You have probably heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The condition corresponds to the diminished amount of sunlight that occurs during the winter months. A 2014 research report released in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that employees who are exposed to natural light at work on average sleep nearly an hour longer than employees exposed to artificial light. Depending on your view of rest, sleeping longer may not seem to correlate strongly with productivity. But then again, try being under-slept at work for a while and you might change your mind.

Sunshine, if readily available, represents the most affordable and effective method of increasing worker productivity within a coworking space. Offices are better off if they included access to natural light and have unobstructed views of nature on the other side of large windows.

The welcome sound of silence

In several research studies, noise pollution represents one of the most significant contributors to employee dissatisfaction. Sharing a workspace often compounds the noise dilemma.

Lorraine Maxwell at Cornell University’s Department of Design and Environmental Analysis explains the link between a noisy workspace and concentration. Office designs should incorporate a wide variety of areas that range from noisy, bustling activity to quiet havens where employees get down to business. Another factor to consider is the type of sound projected into the space. Offices that have audio systems tend to increase employee productivity in shared workspaces only if playing unobtrusive sounds, like those from nature.

Going green to increase productivity in coworking spaces

Coworking spaces present a significant opportunity for companies to support and maintain sustainable practices by implementing a shared workspace model. At its most fundamental application, coworking spaces promote the sharing of space, supplies, and natural resources. The key to increasing productivity in a green coworking space involves implementing measures like these that benefit everyone in the space.


Image credit: Photo courtesy of Alvin Engler via