“We are what we see. We are products of our surroundings.” — Amber Valleta, American actress.
While there are jobs that take place in harsh environments, if you’re reading this article, I doubt you do. However, perhaps it’s sterile, or uncomfortable, or hot. Poor working conditions can lead to decreased productivity and inferior performance. For example, we know that poor ergonomics cause repetitive motion injuries, so addressing these issues costs less in terms of insurance costs and lost productivity. Nowadays, desks tend to be at the right height, computer screens at the right distance to avoid eyestrain, and keyboards easier to use.
What are some other ways you can make your office a better place to work?
1. Bring a little of the outdoor world inside. Did you know that in some buildings, the air can be much more polluted than the air outside? As building materials age, they release gasses and particulates into the air. Limited circulation (despite a good air conditioning system) may fail to remove these pollutants, as well as the dust, beverage and food odors, and other contaminants brought in by employees. Newer buildings often outgas chemicals used in their building materials—including formaldehyde!—and tend to be so tightly built that interior air takes forever to replace itself with cleaner exterior air. I’m not telling you to throw your doors wide to any insect, rodent, or pollen spore that wants to enter. So what’s the solution? Plants. In addition to thriving on the carbon dioxide we exhale, many filter pollutants out of the air. Some species, including the infamous mother-in-law’s tongue, don’t even need much light to survive. Besides all that, plants brighten up the place, especially those that flower. That can’t help but lift spirits here and there.
2. Throw some light on the subject. Rather than close yourself off from the outside world, open the blinds to let the sunshine in. Your building probably already has window films to cut down on harmful UV radiation and other damaging forms of light, so it can’t hurt to be able to see outdoors. If you worry about the motion or scenery distracting you and your team members, don’t. It can actually inspire, and your plants can use the light. If it does bother someone, they can turn their back to it.
3. Surround yourself with things that make you happy. A sterile cubicle does nothing to stimulate productivity or maintain one’s sanity. Rather than discourage personal ornamentation, let people decorate as they will—as long as it doesn’t get in the way of their work—and provide the means to do so: pushpins, special tacks, magnets, whatever. If your daughter’s latest art project brings you joy, hang it on your wall. Fond of your cat? Bring her picture to work. Content people do far better work than overstressed worriers who wish they were anywhere but here.
4. Look for ways to make the workplace more attractive. A little paint here and there, prominently displayed team trophies, a cool Keurig and plenty of K-cups in the break room, framed photos and art, and serene decorative colors like blue can make a huge difference in how people feel about their work. Soft curves and rich woods liberally used in the office design and, to quote Hemingway, “a clean, well-lighted place” in general will also make the environment much more pleasant.
5. Find/provide a place to blow off some steam. Google, one of the world’s most innovative companies, actually provides places for stressed employees to go and have a little fun during their breaks. They also allow employees to spend up to 20% of their time working on independent projects. This has proven profitable; apparently Google+ got started this way. You may not be able to allow yourself or your team members to basically take a paid day off each week, but you can provide interesting, well-equipped break rooms, attractively decorated courtyards, pleasant bathrooms, and nice grounds.
Happy Is As Happy Does
If it were always tons of fun, we wouldn’t call it work. But it doesn’t have to be torture, either. If you do everything possible to tweak the enjoyment quotient a bit higher in the workplace, both you and your team members will be more willing to spend more time at work—and that will show in increased productivity and a better bottom line.