Business owners and managers are always looking for ways to do more with less, increase profits, and boost worker productivity. The good news is that you can improve productivity in your office without investing in advanced training, motivational speakers, or sending the daily email to sleepy-eyed Dave, urging him to kick it into high gear.

These three strategies to improve office worker productivity are backed by data and research from top universities and research firms, and you can take steps to implement them into your office this week.

The Case for Multiple Monitors at Every Desk

California-based research firm Jon Peddie surveyed 1,000 end-users to ask what their perceived productivity increase was when using a multi-monitor setup vs. a single computer monitor at work. The information workers, designers, and engineers surveyed estimated that their productivity increased forty-two percent when using a multiple-monitor setup.

A Microsoft study that measured actual productivity increases had a more reasonable figure (a 9 percent productivity increase when using large, multi-monitor displays), and this University of Utah study showed that workers using a dual-monitor setup completed work 3 percent faster, with a thirty-three percent lower error rate than those completing identical tasks on a single monitor.

This document provides complete results of the University of Utah landmark study by task type—helpful if business owners and managers want to identify which workers at their organization will benefit most from two and three monitor setups.

Nearly all of the studies about the use of multiple monitors at work agree: for most office tasks, having more viewing areas available on a worker’s computer screens will make those workers more productive and efficient. How much more productive really depends on a worker’s job.

Tasks like data entry, drafting an email or writing a blog while referencing source material, opening spreadsheets across two monitors to compile or view a report in its entirety, leaving a chat box open while continuing to work, and comparing an original image to the finished one in graphic design can all be completed with more speed and accuracy when workers are provided more screen real estate in the form of a second (or third) monitor.

With most office computer monitors priced below $200, equipping work stations with more than one monitor will quickly pay for itself by improving office productivity and by reducing errors.

Add Plants to Your Office

Not only can plants remove harmful VOCs from the air, adjust the humidity of a room to a more comfortable level, and reduce stress, but a Washington University study revealed that people working on a computer in a room with plants were 12 percent more productive than people doing the same work on the same computer in a room without plants.

In addition to worker productivity increases, the group who worked on a computer in the room with plants reported feeling about 10 percent more alert after completing their task than those who had worked in a room without plants.

The productivity test in this study involved participants sitting in a university computer lab and identifying common symbols which appeared on their computer screen, pressing a corresponding key when each symbol appeared. While there was no difference in accuracy between the group participating in a room with and without plants, participants in a room with plants reacted and pressed the correct key about 12 percent faster.

Virginia Lohr, a horticulturist at WSU and the lead researcher for the study, thinks that the well-documented ability of plants and nature to reduce blood pressure and mental fatigue are the primary factors that drive an increase in productivity, reaction time, and mental alertness.

The good news for business owners and office managers hoping to cultivate a more productive office space is the low cost of many low-maintenance indoor plants. Large plants like Rubber Fig Trees, Parlor Palms, and varieties of Dracaena which can be placed in office corners, lobbies, and conference rooms can be purchased for about $20 each at your local home center or nursery, and if you want to provide small potted desk plants like Pothos, Spider Plants, or Peace Lilies to your workers (these are my favorites) for their desk, office, or cubicle, smaller plants will only cost office managers or business owners a couple of dollars each.

Let Your Mission Inform Design of Your Office or Workspace

According to this fascinating study published in the Journal of Personnel Psychology by researchers at the University of Brisbane, the physical space we inhabit can have a profound impact on our psychological state, and, in turn, on our productivity.

If your employees feel at home in an office environment (and by that, I mean that they like the way they perceive themselves as a worker in your office’s physical space), they will perform better at their jobs than if they don’t identify with the physical space they work in.

For years the “lean office” approach has informed office layout, function, and design. Under this office design, personal effects were not allowed and viewed as distractions, with the logic being that a clean, distraction-free office environment would produce efficient and focused workers, minimizing waste.

But it turns out that most workers are more productive in environments that are more personal. The University of Brisbane study split participants into small groups, assigning them a task for a made up business that they had just joined. Some groups were members of the “RED” team (Research Education Development), and others were members of the “BLUE” team (Business Legacy Usability and Engineering). Teams were placed in an empty room and given a structured way to get to know one another and make introductions prior to completing tasks such as designing a team poster, decorating their office space in their team color, etc.

Some of the groups were interrupted during the brainstorming phase, told there was a scheduling mix-up, and relocated to an adjoining room. This room was either pre-decorated from an earlier group (either in a team sharing their color, or a competing team), or it was decorated in the “lean office” style. The result of the study was conclusive: participants were significantly more creative, productive, and communicated more if they were placed in a room which was “RED” or “BLUE” than if they were placed in the lean office room.

The study demonstrated that identity cues such as brand-messaging and graphics can have a positive impact on worker productivity when incorporated into office design—the result of workers feeling a connection to the physical space they occupy, which creates a sense of belonging and pride.

Irish design firm, Vision Branding Solutions has some great project examples of how they have incorporated strong branding imagery for companies like DropBox, Microsoft, Ancestry.com, and Guinness to help bring the “DNA” of a company to life to inspire workers. Vision reports that well-executed “branded environments have the power to lift the spirits and positively inspire the people working and visiting there: from increasing productivity and job satisfaction to attracting the best talent.”

And you don’t have to invest in expensive custom wallpaper or graphics for your office to take advantage of this. Find a local artist or photographer and hang artwork of the city where you live and work. If you publish a magazine or catalogue, simply hang a collection of framed covers that reinforce your brand. It doesn’t cost a fortune to up your office branding and create an office space that will help employees be more productive.

Small Upgrades Can Lead to Big Productivity Gains

While there are many more ways to increase productivity at your office, these three relatively inexpensive investments can transform the mood, productivity, and excitement level at your company.

These are changes which will not require a lot of planning or budget approval, and the data says that they will pay for themselves in no time thanks to improved morale and worker productivity.

Joe Hessert is the founder of 10Desks.com, a website offering office product reviews, design tips, and business management advice to office workers and work-from-home professionals. He has written for Business.com, LifeHack, MapQuest, The Los Angeles Review, The New Haven Review, and he maintains a business and marketing blog at joehessert.com.

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