People paid little attention to their work environments for much of the First and Second Industrial Revolution. Until relatively recently, the factory model that emphasized production and command structures over worker welfare shaped the work environments we know. Now, more people are discovering the benefits of a work environment built around employees. Prioritizing employee welfare creates a productive work environment that improves creativity and increases job satisfaction.
How do you design a productive work environment? Designing a productive work environment involves recognizing the essential elements of great workspaces. These elements create people-centric environments that maximize employee welfare and productivity.
By applying these elements through bold and creative efforts, you can create workspaces that inspire productivity out of everyone. You can learn more about various work environments in our article, “Different Types of Work Environments.”
Elements of Productive Work Environments
Workplaces are not created equal. Each environment has a unique set of factors impacting productivity. Employees also have different preferences in maximizing productivity. But there are traits common among productive workplaces that help bring out the best in people. Emulating these elements can improve performance, create camaraderie, and maximize productivity.
Perhaps the most important element of any work environment is its ability to inspire teamwork. Effective teams have synergy. They can do greater tasks than what each individual could ever finish on their own. This synergy only appears if each team member contributes their fair share based on their strengths.
Teamwork also entails a mutual understanding of each other’s weaknesses. This allows members to cover each other’s gaps and work more efficiently. They can account for their differences and recognize that they have the same goals, thus minimizing conflict.
Finally, the welfare of the team should triumph over individual desire. They may have to sacrifice for the good of the team. Understanding that everyone has each other’s back, each member will strive to work harder and produce better results.
Another key element of effective teams is trust. Trust is a prerequisite for teamwork. People who don’t trust each other will be unlikely to work together in harmony.
Trust can manifest in different ways. Teammates who trust each other know each other’s roles. Likewise, they are confident that everyone can achieve their assigned tasks. Team members who consistently question the capabilities of others show a lack of trust within the group.
Trust is also related to the concept of psychological safety, which is achieved when a member of a group feels safe to express themselves without rebuke or judgment. In an environment espousing psychological safety, all members trust each other to provide guidance and support. Trust in each other means members are confident that they have each other’s backs.
Productive teams need to have diverse members. Ideally, the members’ skill sets and experiences are complementary. Unfortunately, these differences are potential sources of conflict. It is up to the teams to ensure that everyone feels respected.
With mutual respect, employees treat each other with dignity. It is a basic element of teamwork, and without it, all cooperation breaks down.
It is not enough to assemble the best individual employees and declare them as a team. Each member should understand how they contribute to achieving the group’s objectives. Clarity is a vital component of productive teams. It ensures that everyone knows the status of their work and what else they need to do. As said by Jonathan Yabut, a motivational speaker, “A boss who states the deadline clearly from the start is a boss who respects your time.”
Clarity also provides psychological support. Knowing where they are and how to get to their destination helps keep them motivated. Despite how difficult the tasks may be, clarity helps reassure people they are capable of great accomplishments.
Unfortunately, clarity isn’t always present in the workplace. Employees are all too often kept in the dark about the goals and motivations behind their work. Many managers continue to subscribe to the view that workers only need to know about their immediate tasks. Any other information is unnecessary at best and confusing at worst. Overturning these beliefs and actively creating a culture of openness are crucial for a productive work environment.
Good teams communicate. Better teams communicate more. Some supervisors regard communication as distractive from “actual” work, but it is crucial for productive work.
People used to working on their own tend to think that communication is overrated. Focusing on finishing tasks is the best course of action for many individual workers. The luxury of ignoring communication disappears in work groups. After all, a team relies on the coordinated work of its members. Team performance is bound to decline if a communication breakdown happens.
Good communication starts with understanding your colleagues. You should also be able to inform them regularly about the status of your work. Excellent team players know each person prefers to communicate in different ways. Thus, they can adjust their communication style as needed. In general, being open about your work progress and not being afraid to ask for help are good tips to productive communication.
Productive teams are motivated teams. Everyone wants success, but not everyone has the drive to chase after their goals. This is especially true when experiencing setbacks. True motivation shows your ability to pursue your objectives despite any difficulties. It allows people to maintain a positive attitude and morale. Motivation also keeps people driven to perform their tasks.
Motivation can be internal or external. Internal motivation comes from the inherent characteristics of the work at hand. For example, those who aspire to become a better manager will have the motivation to take on management duties or executive roles.
External motivation comes from benefits provided by the company upon completing a task. Examples of these are a pay raise, a promotion, or recognition. External motivators are effective in empowering teams to work more productively. Assistant Vice President of Packageworld, Inc. Nelson Dy said, “Small gestures can lead to big motivation.”
Productive work environments provide both internal and external motivation. This two-pronged approach encourages employees to strive for greater heights at work.
Ambition and motivation are two factors closely tied to each other. Ambition relates more to the personal desire for long-term changes. Ambitious people aren’t content with the status quo. They continually challenge themselves to become better. Whether it’s breaking personal records or upgrading their skills, ambitious people are always competing with their past selves so that their future selves will be more effective at their jobs.
Ambitious people can also motivate those around them to be more productive. This way, ambition almost works like an aura effect that benefits other people. According to Leadership First, “The people whom you surround yourself with daily have a significant influence on your life.”
Of course, ambition can easily backfire, especially in large amounts. Too much ambition may lead to toxic competitiveness that can destroy team cohesion.
The key to using ambition is to foster a work environment that encourages high achievers but doesn’t pressure anyone to perform at their best all the time. A more holistic approach, such as career development programs for employees, can be an effective way to maintain healthy levels of ambition.
A strong vision is the final but essential component of a highly productive work environment. Everyone should understand the ultimate vision that the company has, as well as the roadmap for getting there. This helps keep employees aligned and ready to coordinate efforts towards the goals.
The company’s vision must be strong. Your company policies and plans must be consistent with its vision. The vision must be compelling to stir action and justify the existence of the company. Likewise, it must be flexible to account for uncertainty while remaining loyal to the company’s core identity.
It’s not enough to have a vision statement. Your company’s actions must also be consistent with your vision so that people can commit to being on board with organizational thrusts. Leaders have the responsibility of checking that all activities align with the company vision. As summarized by Mathew Knowles, “A visionary is one who has the ability to think or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.”
Setting Your Workspaces for Success
Aside from the psychosocial aspects of the company workspace, it’s also important to consider the physical and temporal aspects of the workspace and how those relate to productivity. The rise of remote work means that workers are less constrained by the physical boundaries of the traditional office space. This further underscores the relevance of designing work environments conducive to productivity.
Provide a professional and comfortable workspace
Many companies struggle to create work environments that are both professional and comfortable. Leaders often relate professional offices to rigid chairs and desks. There is a tendency to reject comfortable setups, such as having office pillows and couches. But you can bridge this dichotomy with clever interior design and open-minded management.
It is possible to create a comfortable workspace that is also orderly and well kept. These work environments help people focus on their work and keep them motivated and productive.
Many companies now recognize the value of providing in-office rest and recreation facilities. Formerly seen as distractions, these facilities enable employees to recharge and keep them at 100% focus once they go back to work.
Even small amenities such as more ergonomic desks and chairs can significantly boost productivity. These also contribute towards better employee health and well-being.
Learn more about making employees comfortable by reading our article, “How To Make Your Employees Comfortable When Returning to the Office.”
Allow people to design their workspaces
Another emerging trend in workspace design is allowing employees greater control over their work environments. Decades ago, the responsibility of designing the office is entirely on the management. Employees should comply with the arrangements decided by their higher-ups. Nowadays, more companies are willing to lift stringent rules to encourage personalization and productivity.
People have different preferences shaped by their personalities. Allowing them to design their workspaces not only gives them a sense of satisfaction but also allows them to do better at their job. The personalized designs also make an office look more dynamic and improve the ambiance. In turn, this can lead to greater job satisfaction and performance.
Until the Industrial Revolution, people were living in environments influenced by and exposed to nature. Humans are naturally attuned to their surroundings and their thoughts and actions are shaped by the spaces they work and live in. Integrating natural elements into the office helps put people more at ease. It also enhances their ability to focus on their work.
There are many creative ways to utilize nature. Wide windows allow lots of natural light into the office. Adding succulents and other low-maintenance plants provides welcome greenery and helps keep the air fresh. Flowers can add more color and also provide pleasant aromas to keep people relaxed and focused.
Offer flexible work options
Most jobs, especially in the predominating knowledge economy, only strictly require a computer and Internet access. From HR staff to data analysts, employees are paid according to the knowledge they generate and process. Hence, they do not always have to work in a physical office. More people are discovering that they work best in public spaces or even at home.
Any modern company should offer flexible work options alongside the traditional office setup. Allowing employees to work from anywhere shows that management trusts them to remain committed to deadlines regardless of their location. Many people are also more productive in coffee shops, coworking spaces, or at home. Satisfying these preferences directly helps them become better at their jobs. The best option is to offer hybrid programs where employees can try out working in the office and in other places to ensure maximum variety.
Encourage openness while providing boundaries
One of the early attempts at redesigning the traditional workspace involved introducing open desks. In contrast to the siloed cubicles from traditional offices, open desks allow employees to pick a place at large desks and work along with their colleagues. Experts believed this setup helps stimulate creativity and open communication. As summarized by Shabir Hussian, Service at NEXA JAMKASH, “The days when people used to place themselves inside the compartments are gone now.”
However, an unintended side-effect of open desks is that many employees found it harder to filter out distractions. There are no or fewer boundaries present. Frequent interactions meant employees could not focus for any significant length of time.
This experience underscores the importance of maintaining boundaries while still promoting open spaces. Some employers achieve this by setting aside private spaces where people can work without interruptions. Enforcing proper etiquette such as not disturbing other people unless necessary can go a long way.
Learn more about the pros and cons of an open office in our article, “Advantages and disadvantages of an open-plan office space.”
Have the right tools for the job
Workspaces must be functional. They exist to provide employees with an environment conducive to working. It’s true that people working in the knowledge economy don’t strictly require many tools. But adequate office equipment and technology can help them conserve energy from doing menial tasks. They can redirect their efforts to more valuable work.
Productive work environments provide people with easy access to common office tools, such as pens, staplers, and punchers. The location of useful appliances such as garbage disposal units and paper shredders should also be considered. For videoconferencing, a good headset, microphone, and webcam are essential for success. Other jobs also need specific software and training for work.
How do you create an environment that encourages healthy competition?
People often think ambition and harmony cannot truly coexist — that’s not true. It is possible to have a work environment that allows competitive individuals to collaborate. Healthy levels of competition can motivate people to do their best. Healthy competition can exist if company culture also emphasizes the value of cooperation and ethical behavior.
How do you choose the best working environment for everyone?
The only way to determine the best working environment is to try it out. Providing hybrid and flexible setups allows employees to try different workspaces to see what works for them. Observing and understanding the daily work by employees is also crucial in determining what they need.