Do you know how your workspace is affecting your team?
There was black and green mould growing in the corners of almost every room. The large meeting room was the worst. It also had bubbling plaster and a crumbling window frame. The stairs weren’t square or level. They leaned and drooped from floor to floor. Just walking up them made me feel drunk. I was assured it passed all health and safety and fire codes.
“I’ll take it”, I said to the Head of Buildings and Maintenance.
This is how desperate our existing accommodation issues were, and how badly they were affecting our ability to work: I had just agreed to move my whole team into this dilapidated and smelly space.
The effects of the physical environment can be quite insidious. We can often be negatively effected by our physical surroundings without even realising it.
We get used to what’s around us and stop “seeing” how things really are. Or we are so busy or focused on what we are doing that we don’t realise how the physical condition of where we are working is impacting on us and how we are working.
Don’t fall into this trap. Step back and look again with fresh eyes. Talk to your team members.
Good managers realise the importance of the working environment on the performance and productivity of their teams.
Good leaders notice the impact, and prioritise action to make it a positive impact and not a negative one.
The physical environment is often disregarded or left languishing on the bottom of the priorities list. This is usually for two reasons:
- trying to tackle your built environment feels too big or out of your control, or
- you simply don’t recognise just how much of an impact it is having on your team’s working life. This is a mistake.
You can fix more than you think.
Focus on these three main physical characteristics of the workplace and decide what matters most for your team:
- Functionality and organisation
- Equipment and IT
Not convinced yet?
Imagine you are in a job where you have to sit at your desk for 8 hours a day or more with little or no chance of ever leaving your sub-standard environment.
Your chair is old and uncomfortable, and doesn’t adjust to suit your size.
You are in the very draughty foyer of an old building with wind blowing through the ill-fitting window and an external door that gets stuck open every time someone walks through it. You are constantly having to get up and close the door.
The noise levels in the room are extreme, as the floors are old tile covered with vinyl, there are no soft furnishings or carpet, and there is a well-travelled path that runs right across the front of your desk. You find yourself answering every query from every passer-by. You’re asked for change for the vending machine, told that the ladies’ room is out of toilet roll, complained to about the way a worker in another building treated them, and blamed for the failings of the new one-way system just outside the grounds.
Your productivity would be severely hindered by this environment. You may not even realise it, but your mood and stress levels might be through the roof and affect your mental and physical health as well.
Your colleagues may complain about how unpleasant you are, how inefficient you are, how you never seem to get anything done and are constantly biting people’s heads off. This may be totally against the nature that your family and friends recognise of you when you are not at work. This inability to build good relationships at work would further affect your mental health and satisfaction on the job.
It may even affect whether you keep your job.
All these things come from just a few physical attributes of the space in which this person sits every single day for 8 hours a day, five days a week.
No manner of mission statements, Christmas parties, compliments or other rewards are going to change the fact that when this member of staff comes in the next day they will be sat once again in this same environment for another 8 hours.
The physical environment has a great deal of power to affect what goes on in the space, much more so than we are often aware. It has tremendous potential to influence your team and all that it does.
Whether people are comfortable and appropriately accommodated at work sets the context for everything else they do. Anything else they may be looking forward to or dreading- such as a new project or a boring meeting- is in the context of a specific environment that has an impact on how they feel about it.
The environment can affect productivity, morale, and recruitment and retention. These are powerful factors in setting the culture, so it is one of the most important things you can address.
Don’t fail to notice it, and don’t ignore it. It matters.
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