21 December 2020

Clear the desk: how workstations affect productivity

Woman looking demotivated working at desk

Have you considered how best to set up your workspaces?

Most people don’t give too much thought to how they set up their workspace. But ignoring how and where you work each day could lead to problems in your mental and physical health, as well as your productivity. Here are some ways that your workstation can impact your efficiency at work. 

The importance of ergonomics

It’s important to set up your workstation properly in order for you to work safely. The height your chair and desk should be set at, for example, will vary depending on your height. If it’s set too high or too low, it could cause neck and back strain. 

This means setting up your monitor to the correct height, making sure your keyboard is set to the right angle and ensuring that your chair is set up correctly, with ample support. This all factors into a better environment to work, which means better productivity overall. 

Tidiness: the jury’s out

Some people work best when they have a pristine work environment with no mess on their desk, while others seemingly have no interest in keeping their desk tidy. Some studies have shown clutter can make people feel anxious and this negatively affects productivity throughout the working day. 

However, while it’s assumed that having everything in its place would be conducive to the best work setting, some studies suggest that can actually be good for creativity, showing that this issue might not be as simple as it looks. Everyone works well with varying degrees of mess – it’s just working out what works best for each individual. 

The problem with noise

Noise can be a problem at work. Open-plan offices can lead to high levels of ambient noise which can be disruptive for some people. 

“The ability to focus and work without interruptions is a key priority for most and allows people to deliver their best work, generating higher levels of self-satisfaction,” says James Smith, Managing Director of Komfort Partitioning, “more than 50 percent of millennials say ambient noise reduced their satisfaction at work – this is a real problem in open plan offices”. 

One way to combat this issue is to fit work stations with partitions to reduce noise and provide a more private space for employees to work from. Another option is to educate staff on the importance of a quieter environment or to rearrange areas so that quieter workers are situated together. 

Getting lighting right

Lighting is something that often gets forgotten but it plays an important role in your work atmosphere. In the same way that the ergonomics of your work station can alleviate back strain, good lighting ensures you’re not straining your eyes to see, which allows for easier work. 

This issue partly comes down to office design, as the more natural light you can introduce into an office, the better. But having sufficient artificial light is important too – make sure that your screen brightness is set properly, that there is plenty of lighting above or around your desk so you can see clearly, and even opt for desk lamps if you need them to see better. 

Is a standing desk a good idea?

Much has been said about the benefits of a standing desk in combating the negative effects of sitting for long periods of time. Standing desks can help with musculoskeletal issues, such as lower back pain, and can help to reduce muscle tension in the back and neck. 

There have been many studies on the issues with sitting for too long each day, not only physically but also mentally. It can cause us to become sluggish and encourages poor posture, which can cause problems with productivity. A standing desk also offers the benefit of burning additional calories compared to sitting down. 

But there are some things to consider before you switch entirely. Firstly, just like sitting for too long can cause physical strain, standing can have the same effect so it’s important to switch regularly between the two. 

A sit-stand desk that allows the employee to adjust their desk accordingly is a good way of achieving the best of both worlds. It’s also important to note that it can lead to ergonomic problems for those working on a laptop instead of a PC, as it can mean that the workstation isn’t positioned correctly. For laptop users, a standing desk could be more problematic, so it’s important to assess each case individually. 

Final thoughts

An office setting, whether in a public space or your own home, requires plenty of thought. It’s an area in which so many of us spend a large proportion of each week. So, it’s vital that each aspect of the environment is considered in order to improve productivity and create a calming space, but also to reduce any physical strain that can be caused by office equipment. 

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Gemma Hart

Gemma Hart

Gemma Hart is an independent HR professional working remotely from as many coffee shops as she can find. Since graduating in 2013, Gemma has gained experience in a number of HR roles but now turns her focus towards growing her personal brand and connecting with leading experts.

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