Articles for Leaders and Entrepreneurs

Does Your Environment Reflect Your Values?

As I have worked on my book, I have written on my laptop in airports; hotel rooms, on trains; and at home, in addition to working in my office.  That’s one of the advantages of being a writer; your work is portable and you can do it in many different environments.  But naturally, as a writer I work alone, and this enables me to have flexibility, another great advantage.  If you are a CEO of a company with 300 employees, you don’t have this kind of adaptability.  However, you may not have given a great deal of thought to the space where your employees are working.  Your employees’ work environment is important, and may affect their productivity more than you imagine.

The Wall Street Journal reported the following: “…. researchers at Ohio State University and the National Institute of Mental Health tracked 60 white-collar workers at a government facility in the central U.S. Some had been randomly assigned to an old office building, with low ceilings and loud air-conditioners. The rest got to work in a recently renovated space filled with skylights and open cubicles. After tracking the workers for more than a year, the scientists found that the people working in the older building were significantly more stressed, even when they weren’t at work. The stress effect was big enough to be a risk factor for heart disease, the researchers said.”

This office environment in the old office building doesn’t sound inviting, does it, and worse – it is an unhealthy environment as the researchers proved.

We have all heard about Google’s office environments: gourmet cafeterias that serve free breakfast, lunch and dinner; cafes, coffee bars and open kitchens; sunny outdoor terraces with chaises; and employees bringing their dogs to work.

A mid-sized company can’t spend as lavishly as Google on company perks such as these.  But there is a lesson in Google’s office environments. The company’s overarching philosophy, according to Google spokesman, Jordan Newman, is to “create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world.”

Teresa Amabile, a business administration professor at Harvard Business School who has written about creativity at work, said, “There’s some evidence that great physical space enhances creativity. The theory is that open spaces that are fun, where people want to be, facilitate idea exchange.  I’ve watched people interact at Google, and you see a cross-fertilization of ideas.”

Take a Look Around

Take a look at your company’s office environment. In addition to asking yourself whether the spaces are conducive to the creative exchange of ideas among employees, consider:

  • How welcoming is your company’s lobby?
  • Are there open spaces where employees can sit in a chair, read, or interact?
  • How clean is your kitchen in your offices?
  • What kind of artwork is on your walls?
  • Are your employees’ cubicles a mess?
  • Are your cubicles so close together and noisy that they cause workers’ undue stress?
  • Do you have a coat room for employees’ coats and boots?

You might be so accustomed to your company’s environment, with its faded couches, outdated artwork and messy kitchen, that you are not aware how it affects employees or visitors to your business.

Take a hard look at your physical environment and find ways to improve it.

Have an industrial or interior designer come into your offices and suggest improvements.  Or create a small working committee of employees who will solicit suggestions from others.  The designers or employees might suggest changes such as:

  • Bigger restrooms and showers and lockers
  • Bigger kitchen with more storage
  • Artwork that reflects your company values
  • A newly designed, designated area where employees can sit on couches, read newspapers and talk casually during breaks

Ethan Giffin designed office space for his Baltimore marketing startup, Groove,  in 2012. He wanted open spaces where people could meet and collaborate. So when Giffin built Groove’s new office,” he included a library — complete with bookshelves, couches, plants, a fireplace and an unspoken “no-talking” rule — as well as some smaller, more private workspaces.”

The Huffington Post noted that “Although a majority of American workers go to offices with open floor plans (70 percent of us, according to the International Facilities Management Association), companies are beginning to acknowledge that this set-up isn’t always the best for getting work done. Without walls, there can be a lot of interruptions and distractions, making even the most diligent employee less productive. As a result, some U.S. companies are diversifying their workspaces to include secluded areas where employees can work undisturbed.”

Ask Employees

If your company uses the open floor plan design, you may want to survey employees to find out if they believe this design helps their collaboration, or if they find the noise distracting.

Among some of the ideas for making office spaces more inviting, according to Fortune:

  • General Mills has designed an atrium in its Minneapolis headquarters that lets employees of the food and cereal maker enjoy meals and breaks in a peaceful setting.   
  • Also, the Southfield, Mich.-based auditing firm Plante & Moran headquarters have an open, airy design.
  • A beautiful outdoor space lets the hard-working employees at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis take breaks in a lovely, tree-filled space.  
  • Workers at Whole Foods headquarters in Austin, TX can work on laptops anyplace in their offices.

While some of these ideas that appeal to Millennials and other young people in companies may be progressive and innovative, if you start seeking the opinions of your employees and designers, you may hear some creative ideas that will help you improve your office space.  Also, remember the expression, “You can’t change the first impression.”  When customers visit your offices, the environment will provide their first impression of your business. Make it a good one and get the relationship off to a great start.

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