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The Science Behind the Perfect Office

The dream of creating the perfect office has been around since, well, the invention of the office itself.

After all, who wouldn’t want to increase output 150 percent just by moving the thermostat needle up a few degrees?

Unfortunately, there’s no one answer, but science has given the modern workplace designer some pretty good ideas. Let’s take a look a few.

A Little Nature Goes a Long Way

It turns out human beings really would rather be walking the fields and forests than sitting at a desk.

Workplaces should try to give workers more regular exposure to direct sunlight and include green elements as part of their design, a study from Central Michigan University suggests. Workers in offices that include these elements have more positive job attitudes and better mental health than those in offices without them.

Bottom line: Plan the workspace with plants in mind — and roll up the window shades.

Go Forth and Cubicle No More

For a long time, open plan workplaces were the new hotness, and cubicles were about as sexy as an affordable copy machine.

Now, research suggests open plan offices might not be all they’re cracked up to be either, leading to workers that are more stressed and get sicker than their cubicle counterparts.

So back to the cubicles, right? Sadly no.

Cubicle workers still have the worst outcomes for all employees in measures of privacy, productivity, and concentration compared to other office layouts, according to Franklin Becker, director of the Cornell University International Workplace Studies Program.

No One Size Workspace Fits All

Perhaps the biggest lesson to take away from decades of research on the subject is that bosses and managers should embrace the notion of workplace flexibility.

Choosing a singular, pre-designed plan is cheaper. It’s simpler to manage and think about. But it’s not necessarily better for the workers.

After all, there are many different kinds of people and so there are many different kinds of employees.

Some people work better in the open. Others in a closed office. Some like ambient noise while others find it distracting.

One Canadian study even found that worker control of the lights had a significant impact on workplace satisfaction.

Not the lights being a certain brightness or dimness, mind you. There’s no “sweet spot.” Instead, simply being able to control the variability of lighting in one’s workspace gave employees higher levels of satisfaction.

And that makes a certain kind of sense. If the workplace is a place of controls (i.e. people telling you what to do), being able to assert some autonomy over your desk and space is important for your dignity.

Maybe, just maybe…

The Perfect Office is the One You’re Not In

No, this isn’t a “grass is greener on the other side” adage.

The goal of creating a perfect office is to make a happier, healthier workplace. And no matter how good the work is, it’s still work.

Even with the ideal office scenario, the best thing a boss can do is send employees home early. Half days on Friday? Longer work weeks aren’t necessarily more productive and happier workers are, so go for it.

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