If you’re having trouble getting work done, maybe you should blame your unsustainable, energy-guzzling office. Greener office design, it turns out, also can make employees happier and more productive. A new report lays out all of the research on the subject from over 150 different studies. Here are five of the ways your bosses are being bad both for productivity and the planet:
The number one complaint workers have about offices: They’re either too hot or too cold. While it may sound like a petty issue, it has a real effect on work. One study found that productivity drops 4% if you’re too cold, and 6% if you’re too hot. Much of the time, temperature extremes also waste energy, as in the summertime when overzealous air conditioning forces people to wear sweaters at work.
Air quality also makes a difference. Volatile organic compounds, chemicals that are common in building materials, pollute indoor air and can make people working inside sleepier and less able to think clearly. In one lab study, researchers found that better ventilation improved workers’ performance by 11%.
You’re also more likely to do better work if you sit next to a window; daylight makes us more productive. Besides helping improve performance during the workday, light also helps improve sleep–which in turn makes it easier to concentrate and think the next day. Office workers with windows get 173% more exposure to white light during the work day, and sleep an average of 46 extra minutes a night.
Again, there’s a clear connection to sustainability. The more an office can rely on daylight instead of artificial light, the more it can save on electricity. Even spaces deep inside a building can use new technology–like this device that redirects sunlight–to give more employees access to natural light.
Windows also help by providing views–something that’s especially helpful if you’re looking at nature. Looking at trees or a park is proven to make employees less frustrated, more patient, healthier, and more focused on work. Indoor plants, too, help make people more efficient and better able to concentrate. If you don’t have a view or a plant, even pictures of nature can help.
The location of an office may matter as much as the design inside–partly because it impacts the pain of the daily commute. If workers can take public transit, or if it’s possible to live nearby and walk or bike, they’ll be happier. A Dutch study also found that bike commuters are less likely to get sick; if more people were encouraged to bike to work, the study suggested that the Netherlands could save 27 million euros a year.
As much as many people hate open offices, it’s true that they can lead to better collaboration. If done right–so there are plenty of options to escape to a quiet space when you need to concentrate–an open design may help improve performance, although more research is needed. A denser design means using less space, which in turn lowers a building’s overall carbon footprint.
Open offices, with shared workspace, also work better if people are allowed to occasionally work from home or a coffee shop. Studies say flexible working helps employees feel more satisfied with their jobs because they feel more in control and more loyal to an employer.
The report suggests that most companies aren’t yet doing everything they could to optimize office design. “As we put this mountain of research together, it indicates that there are definitely things that you can do in the workplace to make employees more productive and happier,” says Bob Best, executive vice president of energy and sustainability services for JLL, which created the report along with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
“One of the things that everyone’s trying to do is attract good talent and retain it,” he says. “We’re finding that one of the things that attracts and retains people is a workplace that they like, that’s easy to operate in.”
Small changes can mean big financial returns for companies. “The magic of this is that you can make a tiny improvement in overall productivity, and when you multiply that times your total payroll, you realize this is enormous,” Best explains. “If I make a half percent improvement times a hundred million dollar payroll, the return is huge.”
Since something like employee satisfaction can be hard to measure, JLL created a tool called the Green and Productive Workplace to help companies figure out how well they’re doing now–and how much some design tweaks in a space can help.