By Kenneth Freeman, Head of Innovation, Ambius

It’s only a few weeks until Christmas, and as we move into December, facilities managers may want to begin thinking about how to create a festive mood in the office. Providing staff with the opportunity to decorate the office and add personality to their work space can be a great way to raise employee morale. But creating an ideal corporate Christmas environment balancing professionalism with festive fun; can prove quite tricky.

Here are some key tips and current trends to help guide you when creating the perfect Christmas feel this year. Some of the ideas outlined are not only designed to fit the appearance of the office, but are also beneficial for employees’ well-being and productivity.

Be unique
Themed decorations are popular this year. Whether you stick to a traditional theme or choose something a little bit different - for example, green & turquoise and pink & purple colour combinations are new this year - ensure your design fits with the tone of the office.

The tree is often the focal point of many Christmas displays. Live trees often look more inviting and create a pleasant fresh ‘Christmas’ fragrance in the office. Real trees and plants have also been shown to boost positive feelings in the office and reduce stress among workers. Larger trees are usually placed in atriums and reception areas to create a dramatic first impression for visitors, while smaller ones will be better suited for corners of the office.

Natural ‘deskorations’ (the art of decorating your desk) is something that’s proved popular in the past year. Deskorations can be formed of plants and foliage which employees can choose and place around workstations to add festive spirit and individuality. Deskorations can take many forms, for example bespoke decorative baubles mixed with foliage or colourful ribbon can be fitted inside Christmas bowls and vases to enhance and lift an area.

But do remember, that plants can be difficult to maintain and their survival will depend on the indoor environment. The amount of watering will need to be assessed on a case by case basis, relating to the amount of heat and light the individual plants are receiving.

Using scents adds another dimension to the creation of a Christmas ambience. ‘Smell memory’ is the most powerful part of our memory, and humans are able to recognise 10,000 different odours. Impressively, we can recall smells with 65% accuracy a year after we smell them, in contrast to only 50% of visuals after only three months. Introducing subtle scents into buildings, especially in social and public areas, through modern, hi-tec programmable ambient scenting technology (rather than old-fashioned aerosol systems) can be uplifting. Suitable scents for the festive season this year include ‘Christmas Tree’ and ‘Chocolate Chip Cookie’. The scent of a pine tree could be added to your artificial tree for a better effect, or even the aroma of peppermint candy.

Empowering employees
Giving employees the freedom to express themselves and realise something of their own identity through the way that work spaces are organised and decorated, has been shown to improve productivity and job satisfaction. Studies have also shown that enriching spaces with plants and greenery can enhance well-being and engagement, and create a sense of positivity in the office. Allowing people to choose the nature of such enrichment can be even more powerful.

A recent paper entitled “The Relative Benefits of Green v Lean Office Space” backs up this theory and directly contradicts the trend for ‘lean’ offices. It analysed the impact of lean (no decoration) and green offices and found that plants in offices spaces increase employee productivity by as much as 15% and improve workplace satisfaction by up to 40%. Even the small gesture of enabling employees to decorate their own desks, or making an extra bit of effort with your natural Christmas decorations this year, could make a difference to your employees’ outlook at work and job satisfaction.

One way to improve well-being is to ensure that the working environment is designed and managed in such a way as to encourage people to thrive, and Christmas is as good a time to start as any.

Winter health in the workplace
No one wants to be ill over Christmas, and facilities managers certainly don’t want employee absenteeism numbers to increase, so implementing a few simple changes could help to reduce sickness and stress.

Winter brings some particular challenges to workplaces. The lack of daylight, the difference in temperature between outside and inside and the lack of an opportunity to enjoy a lunch-time walk due to bad weather, can all lead to feelings of ill-health and symptoms often associated with Sick Building Syndrome.

There is a huge body of literature showing that complaints associated with symptoms of sick-building syndrome are reduced, often dramatically, when interior plants are brought into buildings. Such effects were initially thought to be due to the physical characteristics of plants, such as their ability to remove pollutants and help regulate temperature and humidity - and these do occur, but not to the extent that you may instinctively feel. The real (and measurable) benefits appear to be psychological, and to be as a result of a complex interaction of emotions ranging from a sense of being valued (because someone has cared enough to do something nice to your workplace), to an almost instinctive need to reconnect with nature.

Any manager with a responsibility for the health of the people in their buildings can make a positive difference, with the added bonus of not breaking the bank or taking up too much time and effort. Creating a healthy and nature-connected working environment will pay dividends in terms of well-being, productivity and business effectiveness, both during this festive period but also in the longer term. As people feel their income squeezed and cost of living increase, these small gestures can be an inexpensive and extremely effective way of keeping your staff happy.

Make a conscious effort this Christmas with your office decorations and allow your employees to express themselves – you may be surprised at the effect a Christmas tree (or other seasonal plants) and personalised décor has on your office festive spirit this year.