Biz Features

Does Office Furniture Affect Productivity?

by . August 28th, 2015

You bet it does. We humans are machines, not much more than wet, squishy, animals with wrinkly, hackable computers between our ears.

Our environments play a major role in how we act, and our office spaces are no exception.

The “industrial art gallery” look has become ubiquitous in many of the hottest tech, marketing, and design startups of the past few years.  Even traditionally “boring” businesses such as accounting and law firms have started requesting interior designs that follow that aesthetic.

But how can aesthetics and design help? Chances are you already know a bit of how they work. Advertising is a field that uses plenty of examples of both to manipulate human behavior.

In the same way, paying attention to the furniture and fittings in your workspace can create mindsets beneficial for your business.

Colors and shapes can affect your mood

Angela Wright, a color psychologist for over 40 years and author of a a popular color psychology textbook,  developed a scientifically-tested theory of color named the color affects system. She has done consulting work for varied companies including Shell, Motorola, Proctor and Gamble, British Telecom, The Body Shop, and Unilever.

Angela posits that even when a person’s individual characteristics affect how they interpret color, color influences everyone universally.

Says Angela in an interview with A Life of Productivity:

“We’re always surrounded by lots of colors. Color travels to us on wavelengths of photons from the sun. And when they strike a colored object, that object absorbs only the wavelengths that match its own atomic structure, and they reflect the rest, and that’s what we see. So the different wavelengths strike the eye in different ways. In the retina, they are converted into electrical impulses that pass to the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which governs our endocrine system and hormones, and much of our activity.”

Even more interesting:

“What defines whether a color is stimulating or soothing is not the color, it’s the intensity. A strong bright color will stimulate, and a color with low saturation will soothe.”

So throw out the other misconceptions you might have and learn what red, blue, green, and all those other popular workspace colors mean in her classic interview.

Your workspace can help you feel young

If your enterprise has older employees, it may help to use interior design that gives off a more youthful vibe. Sounds ridiculous, but there is some science to back it up.

A 2006 study funded by the Danish Research Council for the Humanities and by National Institutes of Health found that people who feel younger than their actual age tend to enjoy most of the benefits of being  the age they feel.

This led a team headed by Florian Kunze of the University of Konstanz in Germany to do a follow-up study, later published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, where they found that workers who feel younger than their true age reach more personal job goals.

Office furniture can help motivatation

This happens a bunch of ways. One big factor can be ergonomics – which is why we’ve been encouraging you to arrange your desk like a fighter jet cockpit. Bad ergonomics can not only result in plenty of wasted time, but can ultimately result in repetitive stress injuries or worse.

Interior design can also encourage certain attitudes, from competitive to collaborative. A Stanford Study exposed individuals “business-ey objects” such as boardroom tables and briefcases, while another group was exposed to neutral objects such as kites and toothbrushes. They then gave all of the participants tasks designed to measure their states of mind, and learning whether they were in cooperative or competitive frames of mind.

With no exception, participants who were exposed to the “business objects” subsequently demonstrated that they were thinking or acting more competitively compared to the control group. The results of the study were then subsequently repeated, with one notable case involving paired participants who were given $10 and gauged on their willingness to share. Partners could refuse any offer perceived to be too low, in which case neither participant would receive anything. Subjects exposed to neutral pictures in most cases split the money evenly, only around a third of those who looked at business-related objects did.

The imagery and design context present in your workspace can also motivate in other ways. Having a designated “professional” and “personal” space can help workers get primed for productivity in one area and for destressing in another, preventing the skiving that has come to characterize many lax work areas.

More Workspace Hacks


Additional reading and sources

Header photo: Harkonnen conference set, by H.R. Giger



Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.