For footballers, it’s a flat, well-kept pitch that helps them to perform to the best of their abilities. For opera singers, it’s all about the acoustics. But what about your environment and the people that work there?

Claire Stant, Design Director at Office Principles, spoke in detail at our Culture Carnival about how your office environment can affect productivity. In fact, she took it one step further, and encouraged us all to view our offices as a ‘Culture Canvas’; a hub to channel your culture through and express your brand. Create a space your people are proud to call theirs, and a space your customers can’t wait to walk into.

Research tells us that happiness and wellbeing are the key to strong business results.

Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D., a Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics, discusses the findings of his studies into happiness’ effects on business performance in this interview.

If your people enjoy the surroundings they’re working in, and those surroundings have been designed with their roles at the front of your mind, they’ll be more productive. Fact.

Of course, your people’s productivity and efficiency make a fine pairing when it comes to increasing your bottom line. But then there’s the customer experience benefits too. Your environment is another opportunity to differentiate your business, wow your customers, and convert first time visitors into loyal supporters.

What factors affect employee performance?


Time and time again, studies have proven that colours have a significant impact on our mood, our decision making and our productivity.

As the source of 80% of all our impressions, sight is our primary sense. When you step into your office, the colours you’re met with set the tone for your day. Bright spaces with a diversity of colours stimulate endorphin production. And these endorphins, in turn, trigger a positive feeling in the body which improves mood and increases enthusiasm.

There are four primary psychological colours: red, blue, yellow and green. Red has been linked to productivity boosts in physically demanding jobs because it affects your body. Blue brings benefits in office jobs because it affects your mind. Yellow works best in innovative/creative roles, and green offers balance and a calm working environment. Every other colour and its effects are a combination of two or more of these primary colours.

Then, there’s the intensity of the colours to consider too. That’s what defines whether the colour is stimulating or soothing; not the colour itself. Strong, bright colours with high saturation stimulate, while less intense, low saturation shades soothe.

But remember, a diversity of colours is key; there’s no ‘one-colour-fits-all’ approach. Adapt your colour choices to the areas’ uses, create zones catered to productivity, creativity, relaxation and so on. Explore colour charts, find out which hues inspire you, and if budget allows it, work with a design specialist to find the perfect way to tie them all together.

If you take one thing away from this section, make sure it’s this: bright white or dull grey walls never motivated or energised anyone. They have the exact opposite effect in fact. So, if your office’s colour scheme is looking as lifeless as David Brent’s, it’s about time you gave it a splash of inspiration.


If the lighting in your office is too dim, you’re forcing your people’s eyes to work much harder to see, which can cause eye strain and headaches. It can also contribute to tiredness and decrease focus.

At the other end of the scale, harsh lighting is equally harmful, and a lot more common. Most workspaces use fluorescent lights, and even if our eyes can’t see it, these bulbs are constantly flickering. This flickering makes it harder for our eye to focus, which can lead to eye strain. And it can trigger migraines; both of which make for poor productivity.

On top of health, mood and productivity benefits, lighting also presents an opportunity to save money. In particular, use the power of natural light to your advantage. It ticks all those boxes and hits the sweet spot between being too dim or too bright.

Natural light isn’t an option for everyone. Your workspace might be in a basement, or you could be reading this from Stockholm in the depths of winter, enjoying your five daylight hours for the day. If that’s the case, have you considered switching to LED lights? They use less energy than their fluorescent counterparts. They’re softer and they don’t flicker which helps prevent headaches. And they don’t contain mercury, meaning they’re more environmentally friendly.

Lights with dimmers on are becoming increasingly common, and they’re a great way to give your people the flexibility to choose the lighting that suits them, based on their personal preferences and the scenario. That control helps create a feeling of comfort, which again contributes to productivity.


Office noise is all about finding a balance that works for you. Complete silence is often perceived to be the optimal noise level for maximum concentration, but in an office with people, printers and keyboards; that’s not going to happen. And nor should it. Deathly silence is unnerving. It’s creepy. And your people need to be interacting and collaborating to produce the best results.

On the flipside, you wouldn’t go to a rock concert to read your book. Too much noise kills concentration, it stresses us out and damages our productivity. So where’s the middle ground?

A consistent, ambient noise level, such as the one offered by background music, can aid creativity and help to block out the other noises in the office. Hearing music can produce dopamine, and without delving into too much scientific terminology: dopamine makes you feel good. When it’s released, your brain is told that whatever it just experienced is worth getting more of. So, introducing that feeling of reward and motivation in the workplace can only spell good things for productivity and creativity.

But more importantly, it’s about offering a variety of spaces with a variety of noise levels. Give your people the ability and freedom to choose what works for them. Create breakout spaces for independent, quiet work. Have plenty of meeting rooms for well… meetings. And encourage collaboration and teamwork in open plan spaces.

Variety of spaces

When your workplace has five generations in it, you’re presented with a melting pot of expectations and styles. To create a space that works for all of them, you need to create an agile working environment. You need to offer variety and the ability to work wherever and however suits them best.

What your people require from your space to work to the best of their abilities will change on a daily, or even an hourly basis. Open plan offices are great for communication and collaboration; something we’ve experienced first-hand here as our teams can freely chat to each other to deliver solutions to our clients that cover all the bases.

But, as some studies have shown, if an open plan space is the only option on offer, overall productivity can suffer. That’s why you need to complement these areas with quiet zones that people can ‘break out’ into when they’re doing an independent task and don’t want to be distracted.

Don’t hide your senior people away behind daunting doors. Make sure they’re accessible and communicating with their team. Encourage interaction and knowledge sharing throughout your workspace, and have reliable, up-to-date technology in place to collaborate with those that are out of the office. Because as Claire Stant informed everyone at our Culture Carnival, “one face-to-face meeting is more effective than 34 emails”.

Let your culture drive your design

Focus on the experience of your office, both for your people and your customers. Live and breathe your values and stay true to them through your workplace design. But most importantly: do your research. Ask your people what they really want from the space, because if they have an input in the design, they’ll be more likely to embrace it and use it to unlock their full potential going forward.


APRIL HOMER, Partner & Chief People Officer


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