Getting a sense of productivity and motivation

The five sensesWhen business operators are planning their company’s office, price is often chief among their priorities. Keeping the fixed cost of real estate low helps companies project—and increase—their expected income. Price is not just a consideration when it comes to rent; assets such as office furniture are often purchased en masse and for purely utilitarian reasons. Sure, a business is saving money by designing a no-frills, utilitarian office, which some Feng Shui experts would agree with, but what they are ignoring is how space affects productivity, motivation and enjoyment.

We don’t experience anything based on sight alone. Even in your offices all five of your senses, sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, are employed. How your senses react to a space can completely change how we operate, which is why facilities and operations managers must consider all five senses when designing—and maintaining—their company’s office space.



If you conduct a Google image search of “office design”, you will see a lot of white walls, hard plastic chairs, gray or brown flooring, and fluorescent lighting. Even start-ups boasting luxury workplaces often miss the mark, leaning too far into Scandinavian minimalism without regard to the feelings evoked by that feeling.

Let’s start with the simplest yet mostly ignored point: white is a terrible choice for an office. The highly reflective absence of color puts too much stress on your employees’ already computer-screen addled eyes. It is also void of personality, reminding you of sterile hospital walls rather than a creative, ideas-driven workplace.

Restaurants spend a great deal of time on color psychology because they want to create a space that encourages hearty appetites. An office should be no different. You want every color to invoke a feeling conducive to the type of work you’re producing.

Greens and blues are calming colors, which you may think will create a stress-free environment but they can also be too calming. These colors are best left for areas where employees are encouraged to decompress and shift their thinking; blue is shown to double brainstorming results, when compared to red.

They are also ideal for rooms where managers deliver feedback. Try to leave red out of the equation when you’re designing the human resources section of your office; the color is shown to increase respiration and heart rate, which can anger a person. However, accents of warmer colors that mimic sunlight can promote happiness and stimulation brain function. So that yellow desk lamp you’ve been eyeing is just the right amount of warmth a person’s desk needs.

Similar to color, the number of objects in a room can distract a person from the task at hand. Giving each workstation a place to organize and remove excess paper, pens, and product prototypes improves an employee’s ability to zero in on a project.



If you live in a city like New York, where sirens reverberate through the room long after they’ve passed, and you find yourself looking around the room for the source (the siren is likely not coming from the room you’re in, FYI), you know how distracting sound can be. Acoustics, as well as radio station played over the office-wide sound system can make or break your focus.

When you’re considering a new office, be wary of echoes, proximity to fire houses, and materials, such as metal, plastic, and bamboo, that amplify sound. Noise creates distractions, so when you consider that is takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task at hand, you’ll want to limit all noises within your control.

Many offices encourage the use of headphones, which can be a way to remain focused, but not all sounds are the same and some can do more harm to your productivity. Sound masking technology, on the other hand, is shown to improve employee focus by 47% and short-term memory by 10%.

But not all businesses can afford to gift every employee with noise-cancelling headphones or to soundproof their office as they would a recording studio. The alternative popular among some businesses is to employ music proven to increase focus. Among the top choices are ambient sound, nature music, epic music (think intense moments of an action movie), classical music, and video game music (seriously). All of these sounds focus your mind and move your forward rather than shifting your focus toward understanding the meaning behind song lyrics or listening to dialogue during a television show.



The importance of touch may be antithetical to both cost savings and design. You know those clear plastic chairs you’ve been eyeing? Forget them. Just as plastics and metals amplify sound, they’re also cold, uninviting, and uncomfortable. Natural materials create comfort while still being functional, which is great news for the guy making reclaimed wood tables and shelves. The comfort these textures create has a calming effect, easing your team into their work and not distracting them by causing back pain.

When you think of touch, also consider temperature. Well-regulated temperature in an office is key. It’s not just about your heating and cooling costs here. A too-warm office may lull your team into a sleepy haze, while frigid temperatures that demand multiply layers of clothing put a person’s focus on their numb fingertips and not on completing a task.


Smell and taste

Everyone’s favorite office perk is the snack drawer and free lunch. While a draw for many, especially those living on a budget, the options are usually sugar and carb heavy, which drain us of energy. An afternoon cookie may feel like just the right reward for a productive morning, but it’s pulling on your reserves making it difficult to get through the rest of the day. The same goes for catered lunches, which are usually easy, shareable options like sandwiches and pizzas. It’s recommended that you avoid carb-heavy meals during the day and stick to food low on the glycemic index because they actually give you energy.

Smell is a tough sense to incorporate into office design but it’s the most indirectly powerful. So much so that “scent marketing” companies are popping up all over the business operations industry. Scents proven to boost productivity and focus (cinnamon, mint, lemon, orange, and rosemary) can be incorporated using candles, oil diffusers, and humidifiers. It’s even recommended to rub peppermint oil on your temples when you feel like you’re ready to crash.

While cost of office space and furniture are crucial to the survival of a company, especially one that’s still growing, the ways an office affects your senses is a crucial consideration. Productivity, Motivation and enjoyment aren’t just about working more or working harder; it’s your focus on the task at hand, working efficiently and without distractions within your control and ultimately feeling a sense of accomplishment.

Image: Pietro Paolini – Allegory of the Five Senses via Wikimedia Commons