Environmental Matters

My team and I have recently moved offices! Not very far… in fact we are now only across the hall from our previous office. The new office is much larger, much lighter (thanks to the 6 massive windows and 2 huge skylights) and just generally more comfortable. So much is written these days about the impacts of workplace environments on the engagement and performance of people.  Often these articles or studies focus on how the atmosphere around us influences the extent to which we are willing and able to operate at our best.  Most commentators on this subject look predominately at the influence of the culture and circumstances of an organisation on this atmosphere. Less attention is paid to the ways in which our physical environment can influence not only our attitudes and behavior but also our well-being and ultimately performance at work.

Tom & Siobhan on moving day

Consider for a moment some of the physical environments you have either worked in or visited.  Reflect on how each made you feel and why they made you feel that way.  Think for a moment about when you have experienced an environment that felt welcoming, comfortable, energising, inspiring or simply pleasant to be in?  Now turn your mind to those spaces you have worked in that felt stale, heavy, depressing, rigid, draining or generally unpleasant to spend time in.

Whether we are consciously aware of how our physical environments impact upon us or not, I have no doubt that they do.  Just about every day I observe and experience the impacts our physical environment can have not only on our spirit but also our ability to focus and get a job done to the highest possible standard.  Often I observe people and teams operating at a level of vibrancy or flow clearly reflective of the spaces they occupy while doing their work.  Here are some of things I regularly experience and observe that make the biggest difference to the well-being and performance of people:

Furniture

  • The desks people work at and chairs they sit in make a big difference to their frame of mind, physical well-being, level of engagement and ultimately productivity
  • Lets face it, not too many of us are likely to be at our best if our back aches or butt hurts
  • Group dynamics can also be affected by our choice of furniture.  For example, there is no better place for a group coaching session than a lounge room setting.  The relaxed atmosphere and comfortable space created in this informal environment often encourages people to open up and engage more deeply in conversation
  • Of course the opposite can also be true – if we want people sitting up straight on high alert, then perhaps the big cushy couch in the staff break out area isn’t the best option.  This may call for the boardroom environment with solid surfaces and uncompromising seat cushions

Space and clutter

  • People need to feel they have room to move; most of us don’t enjoy feeling closed in or cramped.  For many of us confined spaces can lead to a sense of being restricted
  • Piles of documents or boxes cluttering a space are likely to not only become a health and safety hazard but also create an atmosphere that feels disorganised and weighed down
  • Removing clutter from our physical environment can have an astonishing impact on people feeling less cluttered in their minds.  In my experience things are far more likely to flow freely for teams working in environments with open and empty space

Lighting

  • There is a reason they call it ‘mood lighting’ – that’s because light undoubtedly has the power to impact our moods
  • The most important thing to keep in mind is that people are generally more positive and energised in an environment that has natural light
  • Artificial light is arguably better than nothing; many people become uninspired and drained of energy working in a dingy space
  • Brightly lit spaces however can also make people feel they are in a clinical and uncomfortable space

Climate

  • One of the things people most often complain about at work is the temperature; some are too hot while others complain about being too cold
  • Once I met three people working in a shared office that all had different views of the climate in their space.  You guessed it – one was too hot, one was too cold and one was just right
  • Its not just temperature that matters – some people want more fresh air while others are bothered by a draft that sneaks in under a window or door
  • I’m sorry to say I am yet to find the magic wand to fix this dilemma.
  • My personal climate management strategy is to have blanket at work and heater under my desk while my colleague who sits next to me will resort to removing layers while I’m piling them on

Noise and vibration

  • Noise is another environmental factor that can be very hard to manage in the workplace.  Introverts for example are likely to find a lot of noise distracting and even draining, while extroverts are likely to thrive in environments buzzing with activity including sounds
  • It’s not just loud or irritating sounds that have the potential to distract and drain people.  Even a distant humming coming from a printer or photocopier can disturb people and be detrimental to their focus and productivity
  • I once worked in a building with construction works going on above us – it wasn’t so much the noise that bothered our team, more irritating was the constant vibration from machinery

Clean and tidy

  • Most people are more likely to be energised by an environment that is clean, organised and hygienic.  Of course we all have different standards but there is undeniably a base level of cleanliness and that enables people to be positively impacted by their environment
  • It is unwise to underestimate the negative impacts of a dirty kitchen, stained carpet or scuffed work surfaces
  • It’s amazing what a coat of paint or regular vacuum can do to how people feel about working in a space
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