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Tips and Tricks for Designing a Productive Workspace

It’s one of the greatest challenges facing employers: workspace design and productivity. It’s clear that one affects the other—studies have consistently proven that our environment has a significant impact on our ability to focus—but what is the best route to office space optimization?

Which arrangements contribute to a happy, healthy, productive workplace, and which detract from it? How do employers rearrange their office spaces to get the best out of their team? Here are some of the most common obstacles to productivity, and some creative solutions for solving with them.

The Physical Layout

The physical layout of your office should reflect your company culture. It should also be designed with productivity in mind. Depending on the nature of your business, that may require an emphasis on collaboration and communication or privacy and clear boundaries.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a perpetual tug-of-war between the need for community space and the desire for privacy, the value of openness and the importance of privacy. While closed-off spaces can sometimes create a sense of isolation, wide-open spaces tend to increase distractions (think frequent passersby and visual distractions). Balancing it all can give the most enthusiastic office planner a headache, but there is a way out.

The Solutions

  • Room Dividers: Open office plans became the rage for a while (and still are, in some places). Still, most employers recognize the age-old need to define space by sectioning off one area from another. That’s particularly true for conference rooms and executive offices, which benefit from being set apart.

Enter flexible room dividers. Ideal for mixed-use spaces and for maximizing small office space, they help employers combine open expanses and closed offices. Glass dividers are particularly versatile, giving employees their own personal, distraction-free space without sacrificing the sense of openness and airiness. In other words, room dividers are the only way to go when you want to cut down on foot traffic and noise pollution while maintaining a sense of community.

  • Office Partitions: Sometimes it’s best to separate space without dividing it completely. The good news is, we’ve come a long way since the days of the dreaded laminate cubicle. Modern partitions feature beautiful glass designs, sliding swinging doors, barn doors or solutions with no bottom tracks at all. Nowadays, you can use clever office partitions to design an office that’s as free-flowing as it is a functional efficient office space layout.
  • Privacy Walls: The ultimate solution for businesses that want to balance privacy with openness, privacy walls feature frosted or fully opaque glass that blocks prying eyes without blocking light. It’s your choice whether you erect a fully frosted wall or a partially frosted wall. If you opt for the latter, you can choose exactly how much privacy you get and exactly where you get it. For example, privacy walls can be fabricated with frosted, linen, laminated, milky, smoked, black and many other glass types. Do you want to cover the entire bottom half of the wall or do you want a strip centered in the middle of the partition? The range of options lets you customize your office setup to reflect your design aesthetic, your company culture, and combo glass is an easy, elegant way to achieve the right amount of visual privacy.


The Clutter

The single biggest productivity barrier has to be the clutter. It’s such a problem that the neuroscientists at Princeton University devoted an entire study to it. The results were hardly surprising. To quote the official report:

Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.

In laymen’s terms: Clutter equals distraction. The more clutter, the more distraction. A disorganized work area can also increase stress and frustration levels, which further reduces your productivity (and boosts your cortisol levels—never a good thing). Since every item on your desk competes for your attention, why not keep it to a minimum?

The Solutions

There are many clever solutions for reducing the jumble. Here are a few:

  • Create Rules and Stick to Them: Giving things up is hard. Sometimes it’s painful. Create strict rules to get around the second-guessing and fudging. Whether that means putting expiration dates on documents and throwing them out as soon as the date arrives or creating a home for every item on your desk, rules help us function at optimal levels.
  • Have a Filing System: The age-old, three-tiered system works best: inbox, in-progress, complete. Such a simple system helps you stay ahead of the daily onslaught. Beyond that, a clearly organized archiving system for both paper and digital documents helps you stay organized.
  • Create a Schedule: Discard at least one item every day or week. You could also schedule a full monthly cleanup—whatever works for you. Some people prefer to break the winnowing process into bite-sized pieces (it’s easier to part with one item at a time than it is to throw out an entire drawer). Others do better when they can work up the courage to purge everything at once.
  • Store Documents Digitally: The digital age has eliminated the need for those sky-high stacks of papers, right? So why do those little odds and ends still litter our desks (and drawers, and our shelves, and even our floors)? Go paperless, whenever you can, and consider scanning paper documents and receipts instead of filing them. You’ll do the environment a favor, save space, and eliminate disorder.
  • Don’t Forget the Digital Clutter: Computers can help reduce the paper imprint, but they also come with a clutter problem of their own. Open tabs, disorganized files, and an array of apps can complicate your life nearly as much as drawers full of loose ends. Be at least as strict with your digital organization as you are with everything else.
  • Office Partitions: In shared offices, the clutter problem is multiplied by the number of employees. You may be highly organized while your neighbor is the company litterbug. Putting up office partitions allows the neater employees to reduce their exposure to clutter and limits the impact of another’s mess to their own private area.


The Lighting

The right lighting can uplift, energize, and motivate an entire workplace. The wrong lighting can wreck anyone’s go-to spirit. Indeed, there’s something depressing about being locked in a cramped, windowless box, working day in and day out under the drone of an overhead fluorescent.

If you’ve ever dreaded the prospect of working at such an office, don’t worry; it’s not in your head, and you’re not alone. Research has shown that windowless offices have a negative impact on mood, productivity, sleep patterns, and overall quality of life.

The Solutions

  • Find a Window: It’s well-known that natural light is a worker’s best friend. A healthy dose of sunlight and fresh air can revive anyone’s spirits and inspire the most sluggish performer. Working from home? Stick your desk as close to the window as possible. Working remotely from a coffee shop? Get there early to snag a window seat. Wherever you are, try to grab as much natural light as possible.
  • Glass Partitions: Lighting isn’t all about windows and bulbs. The physical layout of a space can also impact how much light workers receive on a daily basis. Solid walls and doors interrupt the flow of light and add to the sense of dimness. Glass room dividers and office partitions do the opposite: They let plenty of light in a room while clearly demarcating different office spaces. Ideal for small office spaces design, glass partitions maximize the use of space without sacrificing the airy brightness that’s at the heart of contemporary office design.
  • Avoid the Fluorescents: Not everyone has a choice about where they stick their desk. Fortunately, there are ways to work around the worst office setup. Even if you’re chained to a room with an overhead fluorescent, you can improve the lighting by turning the built-ins off and bringing in some lamps.
  • Step Outside: Cramped in a windowless office for eight hours every day? Do your best to get outside. Every fresh air break you take will rejuvenate your spirit, chase away the doldrums, and rescue your productivity.

The Desk

Cramped desks can cramp your style. In addition to removing clutter, you also need to expand your working space. A small desk forces you to make constant decisions about what you can afford to keep on your desk and what needs to find a new home.

The Solutions

  • Define Your Needs: There’s no one-size-fits-all desk. Finding the right setup means balanced space limitations with space needs. How much room do you need? Do you frequently use notebooks? Do you often pull out binders and reference books? Do you work with multiple monitors? Do you need drawers for storage? Creative artists will, of course, need more space for laying out their tools and designs. In many cases, they’ll need at least two large desks. Take a good, hard look at what you use on a daily basis and base your decision on that.
  • Be Creative: One oversized desk may not be the best option. If you have the space, consider an L-shaped desk. If your office features a little nook, try a smaller desk for the computer and a larger one for everything else.
  • The Chair: The chair that goes along with your desk is as important, if not more important than the desk itself. Make sure you get an ergonomic chair that maximizes comfort and minimizes strain. If you have a multiple desk setup, a swivel chair is non-negotiable. When it comes to chairs, keep one rule in mind: Comfort always trumps aesthetics.

From room partitions to ergonomic chairs, there are plenty of ways to enhance your office space to improve the quality of life and maximize productivity. Looking for more small business office space ideas? Space Plus, a division of The Sliding Door Company, is committed to providing creative solutions for the modern workplace.

With everything from privacy walls to office partitions, we can help you design the perfect layout for maintaining a happy, healthy, productive workforce. Contact us or visit our showroom to see what we can do for you.

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