What's happening around you can be just as important as what's going on in your head. Open floor plans might promote collaboration, but they are clearly hotbeds of distraction. So there's a trade-off: More collaboration, less productivity.
Other research has yielded more surprising results.
It turns out, for example, that bad weather is good for productivity.
It all comes down to distractions, according to a Harvard Business School study. The more distracted people are by the opportunities good weather offers, the less they get done at work. Though no business owner can control the weather, there are ways to work with it. Orienting desks away from windows can boost productivity, for example. Francesca Gino, a Harvard Business School associate professor and co-author of the study, also suggests allowing employees to work shorter hours on good weather days, provided they clock out later when the weather is bad.
Décor also matters. Do you cringe at cloying posters of adorable kittens? Get over it. Several recent studies have made the peculiar claim that cute imagery enhances mental focus. The first, published in 2009, came out of the University of Virginia's psychology department and showed that viewing "very cute images" of puppies and kittens enhanced fine motor skills. Then, last year, researchers at Hiroshima University found that subjects who viewed pictures of baby animals, as opposed to adult animals or pictures of food, performed better on both dexterity tests and a visual search test.
That last finding suggests that viewing cute images doesn't just heighten our evolutionary instinct to be physically careful around babies. It makes us mentally careful, too. "If people can concentrate on the task at hand without being distracted by other things, their productivity should increase," says lead researcher Hiroshi Nittono.
Simply turning up the thermostat can increase productivity throughout your workplace. A study of office workers at a Florida insurance company, conducted by Cornell's Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, found that as office temperatures increased from 68 degrees to 77 degrees, typing errors decreased 44 percent. Meanwhile, typing output improved a whopping 150 percent.