Bob Best: Applying Research to Boost Productivity in YOUR Office

Is your office a “Best Place to Work”—and a green one? The two should go together. The World Green Building Council and JLL’s Health, wellbeing and productivity in offices: The next chapter for green building report provides “overwhelming evidence” that indoor air quality, thermal comfort, access to natural light and other elements of green office design make employees not only feel better, but also more productive.

According to the report, these are five secrets to creating a greener, more productive place to work:

1)  Tired or inspired? Check the air quality. Improving air quality can make a big difference in how office workers feel and function at work. According to the report, numerous studies show that high levels of CO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs, which are common in building materials) make employees feel tired and less able to think clearly. In particular, a 2011 lab test mimicking an office with high levels of VOCs found that increasing ventilation improved workplace performance by eight percent. Air temperature makes a difference, too; employee productivity declines by four percent when the office is too cold and by six percent when it is too hot.

2)  Office workers’ new best friend: a pet plant. Bioliphilia, which is the concept that humans connect with other living things, is an emerging area of workplace design and it’s good news for employees. A plant—yes, a live plant—can help lower office stress, improve cognitive function and enhance creativity. Make sure to have a plant in sight at work and occasionally gaze around the office, as views of other groups or the outdoors create visual breaks that make office workers more productive.

3) Let the sunshine in. Office workers should sit near a window or take a walk outside during the workday. There are strategies, such as “light shelves,” that can direct more daylight from windows into office spaces.  It not only makes them happier, it also leads to higher-quality sleep that in turns boosts productivity. Many traditional office layouts only allow senior managers to have access to natural light, so reconfiguring the workplace ensures everyone can “see the light.”

4) Dial down the decibels. Noise pollution is consistently reported as a major cause of workplace dissatisfaction, and one 1998 study found that participants’ ability to memorize prose dropped by 66 percent when exposed to distracting noise. Offices should have a variety of work spaces so employees are empowered to work in a collaborative, discussion space or individual, heads-down “concentration” space, reducing excess noise and increasing staff productivity.

5) Invest in elbow room. Are coworkers too close or not close enough? In the quest to cut costs, many companies have adopted open office plans, “hot-desking” and other new workplace design concepts. Done well, these approaches reduce carbon footprints while providing quiet, private workspaces, meeting areas and informal social spaces. Done poorly, employee productivity suffers across the board. Employers that create unique workplace strategies tailored to their corporate culture and business goals with have happy, healthy and productive office workers.

With the new WGBC and JLL research in hand, making the case for green investments in your office space should be easier than ever. Remember that not all environmentally sustainable practices are created equal; you’ll fare better recommending those that increase productivity while reducing carbon footprints, like those mentioned above.

Bob Best is Executive Vice President of Energy and Sustainability Services for JLL. He can be reached at