The office has been evolving steadily since the days of the windowless gray cubicles that only allowed for social interaction at the watercooler.
Hot-desking, glamorous co-working environments and chillout areas are now the norms for many office workers. But, as the trend towards environmentally friendly businesses continues to grow, it is worth considering the very tangible improvement in productivity that these changes can often result in.
So, if you are looking to completely redesign your office, or just want to make a small investment to increase productivity, then it is worth considering the following.
What makes a green workplace?
Firstly, it is worth clarifying what going green in your workplace really means. A green workplace can be defined as an environmentally friendly, resource-efficient and socially responsible one.
As described by environmental and animal welfare advocate charity WWF, in order to go green you must first undertake an assessment of your workplace to understand the initial situation. Using the results, you should then create an annual plan for your workplace policy and procedures for sustainability that is geared towards minimizing your negative impact on the environment.
This can include anything from introducing a workplace recycling program and switching to renewable energy sources to carpool schemes and buying pot plants. But, in this article, we are going to focus only on the environmentally friendly changes that will also increase your workforces’ productivity.
1) Increasing workforce morale
Working in a green office has been shown to improve productivity by simply providing a nicer environment for everyone to work in. One example of research supporting this statement comes from the University of Exeter in England.
Researchers there completed a study that showed how a workforce in an office with lots of plants reported being significantly happier than those without plants. The study concluded that this boosts in happiness and increases morale which meant that there was a 15% increase in productivity.
Another study, that was included in The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace report in 2015, showed how indoor plants combined with natural light are some of the most requested changes in workplaces. The report explains how these changes improve morale and increase creativity.
This must also improve productivity, as happy and creative people are likely to be more motivated and less likely to get stuck on one task. From these studies, it appears that adding some flora to your office can do more than just making it more decorative and helping to oxygenate your office.
2) Increasing cognition
Cognition is the process of acquiring knowledge and processing information and is an extremely important concept when thinking about productivity. This is because cognition is linked to everything from basic comprehension and working memory to problem-solving, evaluation and decision making.
So, it is clear that boosting cognition in your workforce will mean employees can learn new things and think more efficiently. One study by Harvard University looked at the top ten best performing office buildings in the USA.
The goal was to understand the relationship between the internal condition of the offices and the productivity and overall well-being of the workers. The study concluded that on average those who work in offices with certified green credentials benefit from a 26% increase in cognition. In addition, the study showed that participants in green-certified offices reported a 6% rise in sleep quality.
So overall these studies show that green workplace policy and procedures for sustainability can also improve thought processing in your workforce which will – of course – benefit productivity.
3) Increasing comfort
I am sure most of you have had to work in uncomfortable environments in the past. Remember those last-minute reports on the train or working in a stuffy, noisy and uninspiring office?
So, it should come as no surprise that working in a comfortable office is likely to improve your productivity.
Making an office more comfortable can mean several different things. In terms of green initiatives, one improvement that has been documented in a report from the World Green Business Council is that lighting improvements, like having the correct lighting level to reduce eye-strain and allowing for lots of natural light in the office, can boost efficiency by 23%. Another important aspect is ventilation. This could mean allowing for more natural airflow with additional windows, adding more plants to increase oxygen levels or the introduction of internal ducts to let for more fresh air in the office.
A study from the World Green Business Council and JLL showed that improvements to ventilation can increase productivity by up to 11%.
So, before you start investing in ergonomic keyboards why not take a look at your office and see if you can increase natural light and fresh air. As small changes like these are likely to reduce your electricity bills and improve productivity.
4) Aligning your company’s beliefs to the beliefs and concerns of your workforce
Lots of people care about the environment and in recent years this trend has been growing and growing. An obvious one perhaps, but just as designing your office in line with green initiatives can improve your workers’ comfort levels. It is also likely to make many of your more environmentally conscious employees feel happier.
A study, conducted in 2018 by Yale University, found that 70% of Americans felt that saving the environment was more important than economic growth. Studies like this hint at the growing importance people place on green initiatives. So, you can be sure that showing your workforce that you are environmentally conscious will make them happier, which is likely to increase productivity.
If you are unsure about what your workforce thinks, it could be a good idea to run a short internal questionnaire to understand what you can do to best address your workforce’s particular concerns.
5) Getting active through environmentally-friendly commuting schemes
There are plenty of green initiatives that also inspire a healthier and more active lifestyle. For example, a cycle to work scheme means your workforce can cut back on the pollution generated while they commute while also saving money and getting exercise.
But studies have also found that exercise and fitness increase productivity at work.
As documented in one report that surveyed bosses about there opinions on their workforce and how their worker’s commute affected their productivity.
The study concluded the following: a third (33%) of the employers felt cyclists were more productive at work, 44%described staff who cycled as more efficient, and 89% said they were more energized.
In addition, the study found evidence that people who cycle to work are less likely to be late, which is something that unsurprisingly has huge knock-on effects on productivity. With all this in mind, perhaps it is time to get rid of old cars, get on your bike and encourage your workforce to do the same.
6) Decreasing absenteeism by creating a healthy, green office environment
Another benefit of increasing fitness levels through cycling and interior improvements, like better ventilation, is that a fit worker is less likely to need to take days off work for illness. Research suggests that there are major opportunities to cut absenteeism, through reducing instances of illness, which is vital for promoting overall productivity. Proof of this can be seen in several studies.
One example is the company Skanska who made improvements to their office’s ventilation system and creating better lighting with more natural light. They found that after the changes were implemented they experienced massive reduction absenteeism and the number of sick days employees took fell by two-thirds which saved the company around £28,000 a year.
In addition, it has been found that employees who cycle to work tend to take fewer sick days. In fact, on average they take 2 less sick days a year.
Plus, the Harvard study we mentioned before found that green-certified offices have an average of 30% fewer absences due to illness.
So, the next time you lose two of your team during the flu season consider how making small changes like these could mean you have a healthier and productive team in the future.
Overall, it seems that taking sick days will mean that businesses can increase productivity and save money. Some of these findings were obvious, but I think the extent of how going green can improve workforce productivity is unexpectedly high. Through a small investment, like buying a few pot plants and starting a cycle to work scheme, you could see huge improvements to your workforce’s productivity.
It is also worth mentioning that many of these changes, like the cycle to work scheme are also endorsed by the government which means you might be able to apply for financial aid, making it even cheaper and more affordable.
So, before you start investing in this years’ Christmas party or start trying to find a budget to give out some bonuses, why not see if there are any small, economical changes that will improve productivity and help you increase profits.