4 ways to design your workspace for higher productivity

Doist Office - PortoDoist Ltd. – Head Office in Porto, Portugal

Many studies have been done that show the correlation of a company’s work space and their overall productivity. While the idea of rows and rows of bland cubicles has essentially been culturally cast aside, the new trends in office design like open, communal space and “standing desks” are starting to reveal interesting insight into the relation between office design and productivity.

While Doist is a chiefly global company, this February we gave you a glimpse into our new HQ in Porto, Portugal– these are some of the office design tips we’ve learned along the way (and some we’d love to implement!).

1- Get vertical

Though it may seem out of the ordinary, treadmill desks– thanks to the overwhelming number of studies showing that sitting for long hours is entirely unhealthy– are becoming a trend that is impossible to ignore. Peter Schenk, the president of LifeSpan Fitness, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, said in an interview to the Associated Press that “sales of treadmill desks have more than tripled over 2012” despite their unitary cost ranging from about $800-$5,000. These walkable desks designed specifically for an office setting are programmed to move at 1-2 miles per hour, which is enough to increase the heart rate without distracting from reading or comfortably talking on the phone.

If a treadmill desk isn’t an option for you or your particular office space, a standup desk is an outstanding option that has proven health benefits. Running as low as $250 for platforms that can stack on top of an existing desk, the standing desk is purported to increase your heart rate by 10 beats per minute (burning about 0.7 of a calorie per minute) which adds up to about 50 calories per hour. “If you stand for three hours a day for five days that about 750 calories burned. Over the course of a year it would add up to about 30,000 extra calories, or around eight pounds of fat,” says Dr. John Buckley to the BBC.

“It’s been a decade since scientific studies began to show that too much sitting can lead to obesity and increase the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Even going to the gym three times a week doesn’t offset the harm of being sedentary for hours at a time,” said Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic.

2- Don’t assume an open floor plan is right for your employees

In the last few years offices with open floor plans have been popping up everywhere– and not just in startups. As larger companies with much more employees have started to do the same, many workers and psychologists have pondered the effects of this trend. Despite its popularity, it might not be the right choice for your office’s productivity (even if you’re a startup!).

The Harvard Business Review conducted research on open office floor plans and found that “there’s some evidence that removing physical barriers and bringing people closer to one another does promote casual interactions. But there’s a roughly equal amount of evidence that because open spaces reduce privacy, they don’t foster informal exchanges and may actually inhibit them. Some studies show that employees in open-plan spaces, knowing that they may be overheard or interrupted, have shorter and more-superficial discussions than they otherwise would.”

Jason Feifer, a writer for Fast Company, described his discontent with the new office set up enumerating: “we work slower and our work is worse, out time is not everyone’s time, open office layouts distance us from our coworkers.”

Think twice before you try this trend!

3- Develop a palette of place

Sometimes just walking into a different room can spark the idea you’d been trying to pin down for the last 30 minutes. Even taking a short walk (a la Steve Jobs) does wonders for brainstorming. It’s no wonder that workplace experts promote creating a “palette of place” in office spaces– “organized zones for different kinds of work that allow people to amp up or down the degree of sensory stimulation they want, and to signal their level of availability for interaction. It doesn’t require any more space than a conventional office and can actually use real estate more efficiently,” says Chris Congdon in this article.

John Ferrigan, a design consultant who’s designed office spaces for Google, says “In my experience, what needs to happen is a layered approach, creating different settings or zones, because it’s never one-size-fits-all,” says Ferrigan. “There need to be spaces for those people who really need quiet to focus, whether they just find it easier to work or they’re more of an introvert. We need to provide spaces where everyone in the company, regardless of personality or role, will feel comfortable.”

It can even be as simple as changing the lighting in different areas. Lighting company Phillips has found in their research that raising light levels in an office increased productivity 8% and decreased accidents by 52%.

4- Find a mute button

A staggering 95.3% of workers say having “access to quiet, private places for concentrated work” is important, but over 41% say they don’t have them. Additionally, in a recent study completed for the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), 70% of office workers polled agreed that productivity would increase if office noise would decrease.

Besides the harm that continual noise places on workers’ productivity, it can actually affect their health. Many studies reveal that noise (even at low levels) is a well-known cause of stress which, in turn, causes health issues like high blood pressure, digestive disorders, headaches, hypertension, and ulcers– inevitably leading to lower productivity, and more lost work time.

Just take a peek at this graphic from the Harvard Business Review, showing how important sound privacy is to employees:

Creating quiet/no-talking space for your employees is an initiative they’ll surely thank you for in the future!


There is loads of literature regarding designing office space for higher productivity. No matter the size of your company, the office space matters and has a significant impact on your employees’ productivity and job satisfaction.

What have you done to increase productivity in your workplace? Share with us!