Are We More Productive at Home or at Work?

Are We More Productive at Home or at Work?

“Think of a zoo”, says Dr. Craig Knight, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter.  “When you put a Gorilla into a zoo you’ll give it a tire to swing on, some trees for it to climb, a water feature for it to play with – That’s the least we’ll do for an animal” he goes on.  “But when we do that for people, we get design awards!”

He’s got a point.  How many of us work or have worked in an office with no natural light or air, no plants, no art on the walls?  Did you find it very inspiring or productive?  No, didn’t think so.  So it’s no wonder to find out that studies have shown that working from home is just as productive as working in an office.

In fact Anna Whitehouse, AKA @Mother_Pukka on Instagram, felt so emphatically that we could work just as well from home as from the office, that she started Flex Appeal, a campaign to get all British business to the place where they offer flexible working to all of its staff as standard. 


Whitehouse says: “ This isn’t a revolution, it’s an evolution”, referring to the changing ways in which people work.  The facts are hard to ignore: 81% of managers in a study conducted by Regus believe that flexible working improves productivity, and in a study conducted by FM World, 72% of businesses reported increased productivity as a direct result of instigating a flexible working policy.

Flexible working might have an even stronger case in the future, now that so many of us are working from home due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.  The working world have now experienced the benefits of working from home, and managers have seen that their staff are still managing to hit their targets and get their workload done, it just might not be between the hours of 9 – 5.


So we’re becoming comfortable with working from home because we have our creature comforts around us.  We have our favourite brand of tea/coffee, a fridge to access whenever we want, and no judgment of what we wear/eat/say during the day.  When we eventually get back to the office, are we going to notice our workspaces aren’t up to scratch in making us feel comfortable and productive. 

Nicola Phillips from Peldon Rose (a workspace design company based in London) predicts that when we eventually get back to the office, we might start thinking that we need a more agile work environment.  She goes on to explain that “Agile working is about offering different types of spaces, for the different types of work that staff need to accomplish.”  In a nutshell that means providing quiet and isolated spots for people who need to focus on something, collaborative spaces like high tables with bar stools for group chats, relaxed and informal areas for catch up conversations, phone booths for communicating with no background distractions, break out spaces to get away from work whilst still at work, spaces with flip charts and white boards, presentation spaces for clients, and in general, spaces that fit the needs of the workforce.

So whilst we’re all still working from home, what can we do to make ourselves a more productive workspace?  When we asked Dr Knight if there were any tips, he listed the following:

Remember that it’s your space and you don’t have to work a 9-5.  Work whenever suits you.Experiment with the space that you’re in, set up the space to suit you, and make sure the things around you are what you like.Think about what you want to wear, if you’re used to wearing a suit and that feels productive then carry on.Work on where you sit.  Working with your back to a door where people come and go can be off putting.

In our exclusive interview with Dr. Craig Knight, we also asked him what makes for a productive office environment.  Although we’re not working in them now, we’ll all eventually go back to our workspaces and we might look at it differently.  On this matter, Dr. Knight was keen to stress the importance of distinguishing between a productive workspace, and a productive workforce.  With regards to the former, we circle back to the zoo analogy.  Following a study in 2010 where Dr. Knight compared plain office spaces, to those enriched with plants and art, the results were remarkable.  “There was a 32% increase in productivity and 45% increase in staff wellbeing”.  The offices with the greater difference were also those where the staff had been able to curate their own spaces, and had ownership over the decoration.

When thinking about the elements that create a productive workforce, we asked Dr Knight where companies might even start, when thinking about that.  His response was succinct “They start with something that’s often forgotten and that’s the people.”  Clearly organisations put a lot of managerial time and effort into putting systems of productivity in place, but if the people who run those systems are forgotten, or not involved, then productivity is unlikely to increase.

Many of us will eventually go back to work in an office, and when we arrive back on day one we may realize that our office is lacking the creature comforts that we had at home.  So short of re-designing the whole office, what can we do in the short term?  Both Dr. Knight and Ms Phillips stress the importance of enriching the space with decorative touches like rugs, plants and art.  So it could be as simple as taking in a pot plant for your desk, in a nice pot of course, and hanging up a few prints or paintings.  You don’t need your office to win a design award, you just need it to feel engaging enough that you can be your most productive at work.