What comes to your mind when you think about the color of an average office?
White? Grey? Maybe the occasional taupe?
It’s not out of the ordinary for traditional offices to feature drab colors on the walls and carpet. The modern movement for open workspaces tend to feature vibrant colors. It’s easy to assume that today’s offices – their reds, greens and blues – are more conducive to productivity, but is that just a feeling or is it science?
We wanted to get the bottom of the question of office color, so we sifted through a few articles and research to come up with a definitive answer. Over the next few minutes, we’ll talk about a study from the University of Texas that offer pretty convincing data about how colors can boost or burden your employees.
The Basics of Color: Why Blue is Different than Orange
Color is a matter of wavelengths. “Wave” should be a familiar term…radio waves, microwaves are just two examples. “Ray” is also a popular word for waves – gamma rays and x-rays fall into this category.
The rays have shorter wavelengths. Think of them like waves in the ocean. Shorter wavelengths are like waves moving toward the beach rapidly with just a few seconds between them. Longer wavelengths are like waves coming to the beach I slow intervals, like maybe one wave every 15 seconds.
Now, let’s bring this around to specific colors. Violet and blue have shorter wavelengths than red and orange, and, for some reason, have a completely different effect on our minds.
That’s right, the color of your office is literally (and scientifically) a mind-altering experience.
Which Colors Help Us Work Better?
Back in 2004, a team of scientists from the University of Texas at Austin observed workers in three different offices. Each office featured a different combination of colors. During the study, researchers recorded their productivity.
You might think that these kinds of studies happen all the time, but up until 2004, they weren’t that common. Here’s what the introduction to the study said: “The importance of environmental effects on employees’ productivity and morale has been suggested, yet very little experimental research on the long-term effects of interior color on workers’ productivity in the office environment has been reported.”
So, to get to the bottom of the color conundrum, they painted one office white, one mostly red and one mostly blue green.
They split the employees into three groups based on how well they could block out distraction. To measure their performance, they had employees check lists of zip codes for errors and perform typing tasks each day for four days.
At the end of the study, they found some interesting things:
- Red room: People who could block out distractions (“high screeners”) got increasingly better at their jobs as compared to those who had a hard time blocking out distractions (“low screeners”).
- White room: Results were very similar to the ones observed in the red room
- Blue-green room: Everyone performed the same, with those who were only mildly distracted (“moderate screeners”) scoring slightly better than their counterparts.
Make sense? We’ll put it another way. The blue-green room seemed to have a calming effect on everyone, no matter how high or low their tolerance was for distractions.
The red room seemed to have a negative effect on workers who were easily distracted, but not so much or employees who can block out distractions while they work.
The white room had a pretty strong effect on the low and moderate screeners – they made significantly more mistakes in checking zip codes or errors than high screeners.
What Does All This Mean for My Office?
Let’s begin by saying we’re not suggesting you have to hire a contractor to come in and repaint your walls a soothing blue-green. However, science says that might not be a bad idea.
And the experts at task management company Taskworld agree. In an infographic that appeared in an Entrepreneur article, they said blue “is universally known for productivity” and is a “stable and calming color that helps workers focus on the task at hand.”
They also give high praise for green, which isn’t a surprise in the context of the study we just looked at.
“Green is a good color for people who work long hours,” they said. “It does not cause fatigue and helps you remain calm and efficient at the same time.”
Red, as you probably guessed, isn’t the best fit for an environment where you’re sitting for long hours. However, “if your job or task involves physical activity” red is a great color because it has been shown to “increase the heart rate, blood flow and also invokes emotion and passion.”
Have you recently changed your office color or worked in an environment where the color seemed to affect employee performance? Tell us about it in the comments section below.