In a 2002 study, two groups of high school students were asked to spend some time making creative collages. One group made their collages in a setting with direct sunlight and natural wood surrounding them. The other group was in a room built of manufactured materials not found in nature, like drywall and plastic.
When a panel of six independent art critics viewed the students’ finished work, the results were overwhelmingly clear. The students who worked in the natural environment produced more innovative and creative pieces.
It makes perfect sense, our species was designed to wake with the sunlight. For millennia we’ve worked outside, hunting and farming and building societies. We lived in nature and then build shelters of wood and stone.
Then, everything got all … artificial. Synthetic walls, plastic, poly- this and carbon- that. Nature stopped being something we live in and started being something we vacation for. But you can’t pack a year’s worth of nature into a week-long vacation. Natural environments need to be part of our everyday lives. That includes the workplace.
Here are some ways to get started.
Let there be light
Over and over, research shows that sunlight exposure has a huge effect on our productivity and moods.
According to a study from the Light Right Consortium: “People who are more satisfied with their lighting rate the space as more attractive, are happier, and are more comfortable and satisfied with their environment and work.”
If you can work in an environment with a lot of natural light, that’s the best. If not, there were other ways to get the benefits of light.
1. Opt for lensed indirect lighting
This Cornell study shows the depressing reality of office life — those fluorescent ceiling lights negatively impact moods. Opt instead for lensed indirect lighting, which directs light upward to the ceiling rather than straight down.
2. Try full-spectrum light bulbs
Many light bulb manufacturers now are making bulbs that attempt to replicate the full spectrum of natural light. These “full-spectrum” lights won’t replicate a sunny afternoon, but it’s worth a shot.
Bring in the plants
Not only do plants help bring the creativity benefits of nature indoors, they’ve also been shown to boost mood and improve air quality.
Researchers at the University of Exeter found that having plants in the workplace boosts concentration, productivity and staff well-being by 47 percent.
“The results from the Chelsea Flower Show experiment indicate that plants, in a well designed and personalised office environment can boost business effectiveness through improved staff productivity and creativity. This gives company managers a real incentive to share control of office space with their staff and create meaningful, les didactic and more grown-up space,” said researcher Dr. Craig Knight.
Want to know what plant is best for your office? In the late-80s NASA joined forces with the Associated Contractors of America, to identify the best indoor plants for removing toxic agents from the air. While the findings are nearly three decades old, they have stood the test of time and remain one of the most comprehensive reports on the subject.
Control your temperature
Somehow, the perception exists that warmer temperatures make us sleepy and unproductive. If you want to get more done, kick the thermostat down a few degrees, right? Maybe not.
In one study from Cornell, researchers found the opposite to be true after testing several different temperatures in an office setting.
Their findings: “When temperatures were low (68 degrees or 20 degrees Celsius) employees made 44% more mistakes than at optimal room temperature (77 degrees or 25 degrees Celsius).”
Unless you work alone, you might have a hard time convincing your coworkers to kick up the thermostat to 77. Fair enough. Try bringing extra layers, like a sweatshirt, to wear.
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