The strangest office environments I’ve ever been in were defined by their blueness and greyness. Blue-grey paint, grey cubicles, grey carpet. Some days it felt like we were all sitting in the dark, even with the lights on. But offices are rarely visually stimulating, aren’t they? Most tend to lean towards the warmer spectrums of beige—every government office I’ve been in has been a combination of beige, matched with maroon carpets, which is like seeing the world filtered through a haze of brown.
If you’ve never seen a movie, painting or sunset in your life, I suppose you could make an argument that colour isn’t very important in an office. But I’m sure you know that colour and design does, in fact, affect the way you react to your surroundings.
How can colour affect an office environment? Jill Pilaroscia, of Colour Studio Inc., writes, “Frank Mahnke in his book Color Environment and Human Response outlines a solid body of research supporting the value of color. Citing psycho-physiological, neuro physiological, psychosomatic and visual ergonomic factors, color and light can greatly improve a person’s impression of their workplace. We respond to color in a complex way that operates beyond personal preference. Lack of stimulation whether visual or psychological is associated with boredom, and fatigue.”
How your workplace looks is almost as important to your productivity as your relationships with your co-workers. Some offices look like one long blur of yellow beige. Beige cubicle walls on beige walls. That’s where you work every day? There’s something deadening about that. Morale always seems to be lower in ugly offices.
I’ve also found that offices with grayish-blue and gray walls have a de-stimulating effect. Blue and grey may be muted colours intended to calm you down, but they’re not very energizing. Blue has a calming effect and grey is about as neutral as they come. Too much of it, and they might make you start to snooze a little.
Remember, colour is about balance. It might be time to redecorate,
Colours that contrast each other strongly (such as colours on opposite ends of the colour spectrum) give the impression of dynamism and intensity. Contrasting colours also makes use of both the warm spectrum and the cold spectrum, which helps balance out the office, keeping things lively without being too muted, or too energetic.
Colder colours (blues and greens) tend to have a calming or relaxing effect, while warmer colours (reds and yellows) are energizing.
You should also watch out for the contrast between light shades and dark shades. With careful application of varied shades, you could even have a monochromatic colour scheme, (say, varying shades of light blue) which can give the office a sense of unity.
Graphic design or production companies often aim towards dark colours, which can make your office look more bohemian and authentic (ie dark woods against brick walls), but it also makes the office look smaller and more claustrophobic.
Bright colours, however, make a room feel open and wider. And while white is the brightest shade there is, too much white can make the office resemble a hospital room , which won’t help morale too much. If you have your heart set on a neutral and non-controversial, white, a warmer off-white will help off-set this.
Budget-conscious office administrations tend to balk at the money needed to redecorate. Coloured materials like dark woods, stretched fabric, and boards have a lot of hidden costs, and need to be taken down if the office ever moves. Paint, however, is an inexpensive option in brightening your workspace, even if it doesn’t carry with it that feeling of a “designed” space.
Take a moment to think about your workspace. Are the colours too cold or too warm? Are they too neutral? Are you stimulated visually? Can the colour scheme be improved for a reasonable cost? Remember that high contrasted colours can add dynamism to a room, and that varying light and dark shades help break up the monotony. Cold colours have a calming effect, and warm colours do the opposite.
Making a change like this can make your workspace a more palatable place to be. And that will help everybody’s productivity.