Hacking Office Environments For Productivity

Hi all, I'm a bulletproofer and an engineer who's interested in how to hack offices and other work environments for maximum health and productivity. I know most bulletproofing gains are through nutrition, etc, but what about hacking the space where we (and our staff) need to be most focused and productive.


I've done a little research, and there's lots about desk ergonomics and workplace fitness initiatives, but I can find very little about hacking the actual environment (lighting, air quality, music, etc) to upgrade health and productivity of staff. Does anyone here have any experience in this field?


It seems like if you could upgrade an office full of workers with a little investment in some whale-song or biodynamic lighting the returns in productivity increase Multiplied by and office full of staff would be well worth it!

Comments

  • Have a coffee machine installed, but instead of regular coffee, it dispenses ready-made bulletproof coffee to everyone in the office!


  • Simple, but brilliant - Good idea! I'd love one of those.


    Though you still have to go through those painful: "...butter. Yes butter. In the coffee, yes. No, it's mixed in. It's nice, really, try it. Just try it. Just try it once. Just- ...aw forget it!" conversations with every co-worker before there's any noticeable improvement.
  • ACH85ACH85 ✭✭
    edited February 2014

    At my last job there were many inefficiencies, and I found myself thinking about this stuff non-stop during my downtime. So a bit of a dump:


     


    1. Music - everyone has different tastes, don't pipe it in and let people use headphones. Music without words can be helpful during creative work, music with lyrics is generally not helpful unless you're powering through a mindless spreadsheet. For me, white noise is the only thing I can use while writing. 


     


    2. Light - Dave mentioned somewhere that fluorescent lights confuse our eyes. An incandescent desk lamp is an improvement.


     


    3. Air Quality - I've heard some pretty scary things about toner and recirculated air. If you have windows, open them. Unless you're in Beijing. 


     


    4. Movement / Breaks - make sure everyone knows it's healthy to stand up and walk around occasionally, and not just to go to the kitchen for more sugared coffee or soda. And to take occasional breaks. I've solved really important problems while staring off into space for a few minutes. Don't create an environment where employees are afraid to do these things. Lead by example. 


     


    Next up, not really environment hacks, but hacks time/productivity hacks that improve business and make for happier employees. If you can't


    implement these office-wide, at least you can practice them. 


     


    A. Don't Interrupt - research shows it can take 15 minutes to fully engage in a task and get to a "flow" state. By stopping by to ask me a quick question, you've wasted 15 minutes of my time. Email me so I can answer it on my own time. If it's urgent, that generally means YOU screwed up. Unless we have an angry client, in which case interrupt me and let's panic together. 


     


    B. Don't create your own interruptions - don't set up email and text alerts. Don't even leave the Gmail tab open so you see the little number next to "Inbox" get bigger. Check and process email at set times during the day. Client-facing employees will need to do this more often, but it should still be scheduled. 


     


    C. Email - 1 subject, 1 subject line - If you need to ask me to do two unrelated things with different priorities, make it two different emails. Choose subject lines like "URGENT - client needs X" and "not urgent - best times for company party?" 


     


    D. Double your email writing time for one-shot-one-kill emails - Write your email, but don't send it. Now re-read it, think about any questions that might come up, and address them. Maybe add "if task 1 result is A, move to task 3. If task 1 result is B, move to task 2." Turning a 3 minute email into a 6 minute email can save you hours of questions and confusion down the road. 


     


    E. Have an agenda, goals, and time limit on all meetings called


     


    F. Don't have brainstorming meetings. This article on Business Insider explains why. I don't trust BI, but the author, Eric Barker, knows his stuff. Instead, have a meeting explaining the problem, send everyone away to think by themselves and come up with X possible solutions, then meet again to compare ideas. This way quiet geniuses don't get drowned out by groupthink. 


     


    G. Avoid Needless Collaboration - this is my pet peeve. When two people write a business proposal, it doesn't flow together well and it lacks a cohesive "voice." When two people try to solve a problem, they often just clash. Our culture is SO collaboration-happy, but we should be asking whether it's the most effective tool before we use it. Instead, segment responsibility: I'll write the business proposal, and you edit it. You solve the engineering problem, and I'll check to make sure you thought of everything. Collaboration is often the opposite of planning and executing. 


  • RekaReka ✭✭✭

    ACH85


    I wish I could give a like for every single suggestion you made in this post.


    It doesn't get easier... It's you who gets better.

     

    Is your social worker in that horse?

     

    Success has a price, not a secret.

  • SkeletorSkeletor The Conqueror Worm ✭✭✭

    Minimalism.


    "I know how to despise mere cool intelligence. What I want is intelligence matched by pure, physical existence, like a statue." --Yukio Mishima

     

    Let's be friends on MyFitnessPal!

  • StevoStevo Upgrade in Progress
    - Based on the podcast with Irlen, don't get Mac computers in the office.

    - You could also install f.lux on all the PCs.

    - have quiet rooms that people can work in without interruption (I love having this)

    - consider having weekly Friday night drinks or something provided by the company. It will only cost a few boxes of beer and a few bottles of wine. Or whatever else you decided on. I came from one workplace that did this to one that doesn't and the difference in the team is astounding.

    - there's a book called "Rework" (I think it's by 37signals) that is all about this subject.
  • SkeletorSkeletor The Conqueror Worm ✭✭✭


    don't get Mac computers in the office.




     


    Wait, why?

    "I know how to despise mere cool intelligence. What I want is intelligence matched by pure, physical existence, like a statue." --Yukio Mishima

     

    Let's be friends on MyFitnessPal!

  • StevoStevo Upgrade in Progress


    Wait, why?




    =====


    They talk about it in the podcast, but basically Apple put some kind of fancy coating on the screen which ends up being bad for your brain. Have a listen, I think its towards the end: http://www.bulletproofexec.com/98-transforming-lives-with-light-and-helen-irlen-podcast/

  • SkeletorSkeletor The Conqueror Worm ✭✭✭

    DANG IT! I love Apple computers ;-;


     


    I'll have to listen to this later, though this is one of those cases when I'd rather stick my head in the sand and pretend the problem isn't real... kinda reminds me of when I found out wheat was bad for me. Lol


    "I know how to despise mere cool intelligence. What I want is intelligence matched by pure, physical existence, like a statue." --Yukio Mishima

     

    Let's be friends on MyFitnessPal!

  • StevoStevo Upgrade in Progress

    Haha! There's probably a workaround, maybe with some Irlen lenses. More research required ;-)


  • RekaReka ✭✭✭

    Hire people who are all in for effectiveness, instead of talking all the time. If someone can't shut up at the interview, let them go somewhere else. My workplace hires great people but unfortunately some of them can't stop talking, being in an open office and having meetings with them, this is terrible.


    It doesn't get easier... It's you who gets better.

     

    Is your social worker in that horse?

     

    Success has a price, not a secret.

  • www.focusatwill.com really helps me concentrate


  • Our office desks and chairs are high -  we have the choice between standing and sitting.  


  • StevoStevo Upgrade in Progress


    www.focusatwill.com really helps me concentrate




    =====


    Focus... now:


    Will-Smith-9542165-1-402.jpg

  • Thoughts on food hacks for eating during the day?


     


    I'd also like to gain a little weight so any ideas there would be awesome.


     


    I currently stock some 85% dark cocoa lindt and raw cashews at the desk


  • I 100% agree with all of ACH's suggestions. I'll even start adding some of them to my own repertoire.


     


    Also, I'd recommend setting up a 'flag' or 'hat' system for people who are working (especially since it'll be a knowledge worker environment) where people can put up a "Red Flag", for example, that shows people that they are NOT TO BE INTERRUPTED. 


    It takes 15 minutes to regain focused concentration after being interrupted (as ACH mentioned). And in office environments, a lot of people are interrupted every few minutes. So they're never able to get into focused & concentrated states. THIS IS VITAL IF YOU HAVE COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS!! DO NOT RANDOMLY INTERRUPT COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS WHO ARE PROGRAMMING!


    Red Flag / Wearing a certain colour hat = No Drop Ins / Interruptions. 


     


    As well, around interruptions.. less 'chit-chat' in the hallway. Create signals that show that people are open to talking. Sometimes someone might have a challenge that they're working on in their head, while they go to the washroom or coffee, and people will come and 'chit-chat' needlessly, pulling them out of their thinking zone. If someone's "I'm free to talk" signal is NOT flying high... don't talk to them. :)




    At my last job there were many inefficiencies, and I found myself thinking about this stuff non-stop during my downtime. So a bit of a dump:


     


    1. Music - everyone has different tastes, don't pipe it in and let people use headphones. Music without words can be helpful during creative work, music with lyrics is generally not helpful unless you're powering through a mindless spreadsheet. For me, white noise is the only thing I can use while writing. 


     


    2. Light - Dave mentioned somewhere that fluorescent lights confuse our eyes. An incandescent desk lamp is an improvement.


     


    3. Air Quality - I've heard some pretty scary things about toner and recirculated air. If you have windows, open them. Unless you're in Beijing. 


     


    4. Movement / Breaks - make sure everyone knows it's healthy to stand up and walk around occasionally, and not just to go to the kitchen for more sugared coffee or soda. And to take occasional breaks. I've solved really important problems while staring off into space for a few minutes. Don't create an environment where employees are afraid to do these things. Lead by example. 


     


    Next up, not really environment hacks, but hacks time/productivity hacks that improve business and make for happier employees. If you can't


    implement these office-wide, at least you can practice them. 


     


    A. Don't Interrupt - research shows it can take 15 minutes to fully engage in a task and get to a "flow" state. By stopping by to ask me a quick question, you've wasted 15 minutes of my time. Email me so I can answer it on my own time. If it's urgent, that generally means YOU screwed up. Unless we have an angry client, in which case interrupt me and let's panic together. 


     


    B. Don't create your own interruptions - don't set up email and text alerts. Don't even leave the Gmail tab open so you see the little number next to "Inbox" get bigger. Check and process email at set times during the day. Client-facing employees will need to do this more often, but it should still be scheduled. 


     


    C. Email - 1 subject, 1 subject line - If you need to ask me to do two unrelated things with different priorities, make it two different emails. Choose subject lines like "URGENT - client needs X" and "not urgent - best times for company party?" 


     


    D. Double your email writing time for one-shot-one-kill emails - Write your email, but don't send it. Now re-read it, think about any questions that might come up, and address them. Maybe add "if task 1 result is A, move to task 3. If task 1 result is B, move to task 2." Turning a 3 minute email into a 6 minute email can save you hours of questions and confusion down the road. 


     


    E. Have an agenda, goals, and time limit on all meetings called


     


    F. Don't have brainstorming meetings. This article on Business Insider explains why. I don't trust BI, but the author, Eric Barker, knows his stuff. Instead, have a meeting explaining the problem, send everyone away to think by themselves and come up with X possible solutions, then meet again to compare ideas. This way quiet geniuses don't get drowned out by groupthink. 


     


    G. Avoid Needless Collaboration - this is my pet peeve. When two people write a business proposal, it doesn't flow together well and it lacks a cohesive "voice." When two people try to solve a problem, they often just clash. Our culture is SO collaboration-happy, but we should be asking whether it's the most effective tool before we use it. Instead, segment responsibility: I'll write the business proposal, and you edit it. You solve the engineering problem, and I'll check to make sure you thought of everything. Collaboration is often the opposite of planning and executing. 



  • ACH85ACH85 ✭✭


    Also, I'd recommend setting up a 'flag' or 'hat' system for people who are working (especially since it'll be a knowledge worker environment) where people can put up a "Red Flag", for example, that shows people that they are NOT TO BE INTERRUPTED. 




     


    It would be nice, but probably hard to get buy-in in today's collaboration-happy, everyone friendly office culture. In my experience headphones seem to do the job most of the time (you can wear them even if they're not on so you can just ignore people) and it's only the most clueless that will still interrupt you. They can be talked to privately. 

  • Anyone have any suggested lamps?


     


    I have a terrible flourescent light above me


  • You have good points. I just like having the extra safety net of a second signal. Especially one that is bright and coloured, so the signal registers more rapidly in their brain. I often wear earplug headphones, so they're not 'as visible' for people to see. But then again, I'm not really in a public office environment. If I were, I'd absolutely use bigger headphones.




    It would be nice, but probably hard to get buy-in in today's collaboration-happy, everyone friendly office culture. In my experience headphones seem to do the job most of the time (you can wear them even if they're not on so you can just ignore people) and it's only the most clueless that will still interrupt you. They can be talked to privately. 



  • ACH85ACH85 ✭✭
    edited May 2015


    You have good points. I just like having the extra safety net of a second signal. Especially one that is bright and coloured, so the signal registers more rapidly in their brain. I often wear earplug headphones, so they're not 'as visible' for people to see. But then again, I'm not really in a public office environment. If I were, I'd absolutely use bigger headphones.




     


    The job that inspired my big post was one where I had a decent amount of power (I was maybe #3 or 4 of twenty or so people in the company) and even then I couldn't get the no interruptions thing to stick. Even after fully explaining the reasons to all the interruptors individually, privately, as well as making general comments in meetings, it still didn't stick. Making matters worse, 9 months before I left we moved from a smaller, crappy office, but one where I had an office with a door, to an "open office" environment. The president thought it would encourage productivity, and maybe it did for the people messing around on Facebook, but my work output tanked. That's when I switched to headphones all the time, rudeness when interrupted, and monopolizing an empty conference room. If I had enough pull to implement a red flag system though, I'd be all over it. But basically my experience makes me think it would have to come from the president and be militantly enforced, at least for a long enough period that most people see the light (aka actually see light when they leave the office at 5pm instead of staying past sunset.) 


     


    You're certainly right about computer programmers! Those guys loved me for what I was trying to do, and would bend over backwards for all my requests since I never interrupted them. 


     


    I have a working theory that sales people (the ones in offices who are warriors of cold-calling) rise to the top because they can handle interruptions better than the average person. When a potential client calls, you have to be able to shift gears in an instant. 

  • ACH85ACH85 ✭✭


    Anyone have any suggested lamps?


     


    I have a terrible flourescent light above me




     


    I think anything with an incandescent bulb is best, especially "full spectrum" or anything else that claims to mimic sunlight, but really anything is better than fluorescent. If all you can swing is a little halogen desk lamp, I'd still do that. But at least as of a few years ago, Ikea had some small incandescent desk lamps. Not sure what's going on now that the US government is trying to remove all incandescent bulbs... 

  • That makes sense :)


    And yep. I eventually want to employ a bunch of programmers in a future entrepreneurial endeavour of mine (down the road. The vision is still coming to me as to exactly what it is), and I do plan on making their lives / space SUPER DUPER cushy & non-interrupt-y. When computer programmers get their toys and get their space to just dive deep & code.. without interruptions...... things get done ;)


     


    I don't have a response to the cold calling warriors part - you might be right!




    The job that inspired my big post was one where I had a decent amount of power (I was maybe #3 or 4 of twenty or so people in the company) and even then I couldn't get the no interruptions thing to stick. Even after fully explaining the reasons to all the interruptors individually, privately, as well as making general comments in meetings, it still didn't stick. Making matters worse, 9 months before I left we moved from a smaller, crappy office, but one where I had an office with a door, to an "open office" environment. The president thought it would encourage productivity, and maybe it did for the people messing around on Facebook, but my work output tanked. That's when I switched to headphones all the time, rudeness when interrupted, and monopolizing an empty conference room. If I had enough pull to implement a red flag system though, I'd be all over it. But basically my experience makes me think it would have to come from the president and be militantly enforced, at least for a long enough period that most people see the light (aka actually see light when they leave the office at 5pm instead of staying past sunset.) 


     


    You're certainly right about computer programmers! Those guys loved me for what I was trying to do, and would bend over backwards for all my requests since I never interrupted them. 


     


    I have a working theory that sales people (the ones in offices who are warriors of cold-calling) rise to the top because they can handle interruptions better than the average person. When a potential client calls, you have to be able to shift gears in an instant. 



  • RekaReka ✭✭✭


    It would be nice, but probably hard to get buy-in in today's collaboration-happy, everyone friendly office culture. In my experience headphones seem to do the job most of the time (you can wear them even if they're not on so you can just ignore people) and it's only the most clueless that will still interrupt you. They can be talked to privately. 




     


    In my office whenever I put on my headphones it's guaranteed that people are coming to interrupt me at least every second minute. Works like a charm, or rather a curse. But that office and whole workplace system seems to be designed for interruptions and ineffectiveness.

    It doesn't get easier... It's you who gets better.

     

    Is your social worker in that horse?

     

    Success has a price, not a secret.

  • Add in the secondary signal :) 


    Or just add a giant ass sign that says, "When I have headphones on, I'm working." then perhaps have a clock / time thing that says when you will be free for someone to come and interrupt you.


    Whilst we want to be uber productive, we can't ALWAYS be unavailable. Otherwise our training system for those around us won't work. They'll get confused. "When can I talk to them?? They're ALWAYS wearing headphones!" .. Gotta open up time for people to come speak to you.


    Or, depending on your position, use something like Acuity Scheduler to create appointment spaces for people to meet with you. Then they can book it, and you can know when they're going to come to you. And you can be available.




    In my office whenever I put on my headphones it's guaranteed that people are coming to interrupt me at least every second minute. Works like a charm, or rather a curse. But that office and whole workplace system seems to be designed for interruptions and ineffectiveness.



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