There are so many things we can do to improve our productivity. We can read books, attend talks, create new routines for ourselves – but arguably most importantly, we can work towards improving our wellbeing. Exercising more, adopting a healthy diet, and generally looking after our health is a surefire route to our most productive selves; but could there be another layer to our wellbeing, one that we’re less aware of, that also impacts how productive we are?
The short answer is yes. As our knowledge of health and our research into productivity develop further, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that it’s not just the things we do that impact our wellbeing and how productive we are – it’s where we do them. Building design and architecture have been identified as significant factors in the wellness of the people who regularly occupy a building, either as their home or workplace, and if we want to truly embrace our most productive selves, this could be a vital factor.
How can a building make you more or less productive?
Unfortunately, our increased awareness of this issue has not come about because we’ve stumbled across the secret to unlocking productivity through building design, but because we’ve realised the damaging effects poor architecture can have on our ability to function. The way in which building design affects our productivity is directly related to how a space impacts our wellbeing – although a psychological element could also be present.
In the most basic sense, if the air we’re breathing is of poor quality, then we’re not going to be able to perform at our best. There are a few different things that contribute to the quality of air, including CO2 levels, pollutants, and general ventilation, and the scientific consensus is that if the air in a building isn’t of high quality, cognitive function can be impaired.
Using the term ‘levels’ might be a little misleading here, because while the level of light is important (relevant to problems such as eye strain, which is particularly relevant for office worked who use a computer), it isn’t necessarily the factor that has the biggest impact on our wellbeing and productivity; when it comes to architecture and building design, the thing that has the most profound effect on our cognitive and practical functions is how much natural light we have access to.
Natural light provides our bodies with vitamin D, which in turn promotes healthy bone growth, and has been found to actively contribute to our physical and cognitive productivity. Put simply, if the indoor environments we spend time in are poorly naturally lit, our productivity can suffer – particularly in the winter, when the daylight hours are shorter.
It’s not only biology that has an impact on our productivity: psychology plays a vital role too. Many will have seen or heard advice noting how important it is to our productivity that our working environments inspire us, and while we can sometimes take direct control of this, it also relates directly to building design.
Interior and exterior aesthetics are a fundamental part of the architectural process, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that they also have a tangible effect on our cognitive and even physical functionality, which in turn dictates how productive we are. In the most basic sense: a dull, ugly building with poor views, poor lighting, and a ‘cold’ visual feel isn’t likely make us feel particularly inspired – and as a result, we likely won’t work as productively as we could (and should).
This might seem a little pseudoscientific, but there is a surprising amount of evidence to back this up. For instance, a report from the World Green Building Council noted that “Longer distance views, away from computer screens or written documents […] reduce(s) fatigue, headaches and the effects of eye strain in the long term. Views also have a positive impact on wellbeing, in part by providing a psychological connection with other groups of people while in a safe space”
The same report also acknowledged that “healthy offices have colours, textures, and materials that are welcoming, calming and evoke nature.”, because “Visual appeal is a major factor in workplace satisfaction.”
How is this knowledge informing architecture and building design?
While all of this might be interesting, what truly matters is how we’re implementing this knowledge in the way we design and construct new buildings (as well as renovating existing spaces). As the population grows, and entirely new generations enter the workforce, understanding how our buildings affect productivity is only one piece of the puzzle – we also need to actually do something about it.
Admittedly we’re not yet at a stage where this is a central pillar of all architectural design, but crucially, this is something that architects are increasingly becoming aware of and challenging in their practice.
Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment, noted that “We have been ignoring the 90%. We spend 90% of our time indoors and 90% of the cost of a building are the occupants, yet indoor environmental quality and its impact on health and productivity are often an afterthought.” Clearly this isn’t an issue that those in the industry are willing to sweep under the rug.
In recent decades, an increasing amount of action has been taken by those responsible for building design, indicating that we could be on the way towards a brighter, greener, more productive built environment.
‘Biophilic’ architecture, (design which incorporates a closer relationship with nature – something that has been shown to improve our productivity), is increasingly being embraced within the industry. Areas of focus for innovation have also been realigned, with many specialists using our health and wellbeing as a basis for the design of some of the most groundbreaking and cutting-edge building work – just take a look at this home made entirely from glass, which was designed to help us retune our circadian rhythms, improve our wellbeing, and help us become more productive.
The important bit – how YOU can use this knowledge in your own life
When it comes down to it, for most people, the questions isn’t going to be ‘how can architects use this knowledge to change the way they work’, but instead ‘how can I use this knowledge to improve my own productivity. Fear not, dear reader – we’re here to help!
Fundamentally, it’s important to get to grips with what it is about building design that has an impact on how productive we are (hence everything you’ve just read, meaning you can tick this box!). With that in mind, we can take note of the effect architecture has on our own lives, by acknowledging the buildings in which we spend the most time, and then make some actively informed decisions on how to increase our productivity.
There are many ways we can do this, for instance, you can:
Improve indoor lighting
Work in a dark, dreary building? Live in a house or flat with poor access to natural light? Take some steps to address this you could simply swap the lightbulbs out for less harsh, more natural hues, or you could consider investing in something like a Lightbox to simulate the effects of daylight. You could even go so far as to use this knowledge during (or as the reason for) a home renovation, installing new windows or natural lighting features such as solar tubes.
Choose the right workspace
If you have any autonomy over the actual space in which you work (for instance if you’re self employed or responsible for choosing your team’s workspace), make sure the space is conducive to productivity. Plenty of natural light, good air circulation, and a design that’s likely to inspire you.
Take breaks outdoors
If you don’t have the access to light and air you need in the indoor spaces you frequent, it’s important to take steps to combat this. At work (and at home if applicable!), take regular breaks outdoors to get some fresh air and sunlight. You should also try to spend some time out in nature if you live or work in a concrete jungle.
Redesign your interiors
If the problem lies at home rather than at work, then it might be necessary to take some more dramatic action. An interior redesign might seem like a costly and arduous change, but if planned carefully can be quite affordable – and even small changes can make a big difference. If your interior spaces aren’t inspiring you, then a refresh might be just what you need.
Bring in an architect
This isn’t likely to be a realistic scenario for most people, but if you’re planning a home renovation, whether it’s an extension or a redesign of an existing area, it’s a good idea to talk to an architect or professional who understands how the design of a space impacts our wellbeing. This might seem like a big leap, but with the knowledge we have now, if you’re going to invest the money and time required for a redevelopment project, it’s important to make sure it’s done in a way that will help you live in the healthiest way possible.
This article was written by James Hale, the chief content writer for Cantifix, a structural and architectural glazing specialist based in the UK. Cantifix help homeowners reap the benefits of natural light & a carefully maintained interior climate through the use of cutting-edge glass technology, and strive towards a positive, bright, and healthy future for the buildings we live and work in.
How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.