Depending on where you live, you may or may not yet be seeing the signs of fall outside your window. Whether it’s the sound of football coming from the TV or the smell of pumpkin spice wafting through the air, we can tell autumn is here. Not only is it the perfect time to go sweater shopping, it’s also a great time to plan for the winter months in our offices as well. After all, our bunkers are meant to protect us from outside distractions, and new seasons can bring fresh challenges to our productivity.
It can be tough to feel productive during the last half of the year. The cold makes us want to cocoon and binge watch great television. But, as author Andy Teach explains, “You have a job to do and you’re always expected to produce great results, no matter what time of year it is.” Luckily, there are things we can do to protect ourselves from the oh-so-cruel weather outside and season-proof our bunkers to provide the best possible chances of success.
It starts with understanding how the weather outdoors can influence our choices and then continues with making appropriate changes to our workspace to keep ourselves ready to take on the cold months head on.
Bad Weather and its Effect on Us
It’s cold and rainy outside. This makes us want to curl up under a blanket and…work? You may find it surprising, but studies have found the bad weather is actually good for our productivity. We just have to tap into our feelings around what’s happening outside.
Using four different types of experiments across Japan and the US, researchers looked at bad weather (specifically precipitation) and job performance on data entry, a task which requires attention to detail and can easily be affected by distractions. And they found that worker productivity is higher on bad weather days than good weather days.
When the weather is gorgeous outside, we know there are many fun things beckoning us outdoors. In fact, we get distracted by all of those things we’d rather be doing instead of working. But when there is bad weather outside, we recognize that we don’t have the same fun outdoor options available, so we can perform our professional tasks more effectively. Not only that, researchers found that people tend to prefer spending time at work when the weather is bad, because frolicking in the sun simply isn’t an option. The Atlantic writer Bourree Lam sums it up succinctly, “When the weather’s bad outside, workers are more productive at their jobs inside.”
While our productivity may improve when Mother Nature sends bad weather our way, our willingness to help others tends to fall by the wayside. In fact, researcher Michael Cunningham found that people’s consideration of others was affected by temperature, sunshine, and wind. Helping was greater on bright sunny days compared to cloudy days. Helping was also greater during periods of cooler temperatures and stronger winds in the summer, but warmer temperatures and lower winds in the winter. To translate this finding into how it affects you in the workplace: when the weather is at its worst, so is our willingness to help each other. So plan to get buy-in from your peers around your ONE thing before the weather turns south.
Winterizing a Bunker
If bad weather is known to make us want to be more productive at our jobs, how can we ensure that our workspaces support us through these traditionally bad weather months?
Raise the temperature
Many of us work in offices with a thermostat readings that roughly imitate Antarctica’s average summertime temperature. However, despite years of office place temperature norms hovering around freezing, the optimal temperature for productivity is likely higher than you think. Some experts point to a range between 70-77 degrees Fahrenheit. (For the record, frigid temperatures negatively impact women’s productivity, so temperature control is especially important for women in these settings!)
In fact, research compiled from twenty-four different studies shows that our performance is at its best when the temperature is right around 71 degrees. When it goes above or below that magic number, our productivity decreases.
If your workplace is anything like ours, chances are the offices with the thermostats on the walls are highly covetable. It’s not easy to get control of those little mechanisms. That being said, we need to make our bunkers temperature-proof. Do this by dressing for the weather indoors, not outside. If you’re on the freezing side, this may mean it’s time to invest in a work blanket, fleece, or pair of fingerless gloves. Consider purchasing a small space heater (just remember to turn it off when you aren’t there!) to keep your area at the right temperature for you. If you tend to be on the warmer side, dress in layers that can be removed once you warm up.
Take Note of the Color Palette
Color can have an impact on our mood. Women, for instance, have been found to feel both sad and depressed when exposed to gray, white, or beige offices. And men had the same reactions in purple and orange workplaces (can’t say we blame either one!) That’s why it’s important in the wintertime, when we’re already prone to feeling drab, that we expose ourselves to colors that promote happier feelings.
Understanding how colors impact us is a good place to start. Colors like green and blue are thought of as relaxing hues. They are believed to improve both efficiency and focus and increase our overall feeling of well-being. Yellow is seen as a good color for environments of creative professionals, like writers, artists and designers.
We know it may seem extreme to go and paint your office walls for a wintertime boost. However, if your office feels drab and dreary, there are ways to spruce up the space without making a permanent change. Consider buying some solid wrapping paper or contact paper and decorate your space. If you’re in a cube with walls, you can temporarily tack up color that jumpstarts your mood and productivity. If you’re in an office, you can hang color in frames like you would a poster. In both office scenarios, a splash of colored office supplies could go a long way toward brightening up a dreary space.
Green Your Office
Plants are good for us any time of year. But in the wintertime, when lush greenery hibernates, it’s nice to have our own inside.
Studies show that plants in the office do more for us than give us fresh air to breathe, they help make us more productive. In fact, according to researchers, adding some plants to a previously bare space can increase productivity by 15 percent!
In an office environment, it’s key to bring in a low maintenance plant that can handle low light and warmer environments. Most plants won’t get the perk of a big corner office window, so choose plants that don’t require much daylight. As for where to put these wonderful office brighteners, desks are great spaces to infuse with greenery, as are hanging posts. On them, options like Jade or Snake plants can add the perfect amount of cheer to help us survive the dreary weather outside.
Choose Your Provisions Wisely
One of the key ingredients to building any type of productivity bunker is sustenance – we need to have the right food and drink nearby. This way, we aren’t tempted to abandon our focused time in search of something to satisfy a craving. Thinking ahead about our provisions is equally important in the wintertime. During this time of year, the food we bring with us often deserves a little more forethought.
After all, in the winter, we’re more likely to lean on comfort foods. And these aren’t necessarily the foods that will energize our bodies to go on to accomplish great things. Comfort foods are those foods that tend to provide us with a feeling of well-being but are often high in sugar and carbs.
There are a few different trains of thought as to why we gravitate toward foods like this in the colder months. For instance, evolutionarily we may still eat what we did when we needed to pack on winter weight to help us survive in the harsh great outdoors. Or we may be leaning more heavily on our stomachs during this time of year to produce dopamine and serotonin, which are dubbed “the happiness chemicals.” Other parts of our body also produce these chemicals, but are believe to produce less of it during the wintertime because we don’t get as much exposure to sunlight (and exercise). So, our bodies tend to crave comfort foods, which make us happy and release those much-needed chemicals in our guts.
That means when we’re stocking our provisions in our wintertime bunker, we should take extra care to limit the sugar and carbohydrates we give ourselves access to. Instead, fill the space with snacks like almonds and fruit for workday snacks and refreshing drinks like green tea.
Designate a Backup Bunker
Winter brings unpredictable weather. To keep yourself from losing important time while the wind is howling outside, make sure you have a backup plan. This means planning ahead to know where your home office will be located in your home and having it ready, especially during the colder months. Set up a dedicated workspace where you have removed any distractions and keep the things you need nearby, just as you would do in the office. Ensuring you know how you’ll approach your bunker both at the office and at home will keep you from losing valuable work time if bad weather is in the forecast.