It's time to lead your team in your weekly standup meeting. As usual, you log into Zoom — cozy slippers on your feet and your cat comfy and purring on your lap.
When the COVID pandemic forced many people to transition to working from home, this became an unorthodox — but increasingly common — reality. The sudden nature of the change meant we spent a lot of time treating our work-from-home environments as if they were temporary, when it's becoming clear that for many of us, they're not. It's time to break open the question of what makes an ideal workspace — not only in person, but when working from home — and whether there's still room there for the cat and fuzzy slippers (spoiler alert: there is!).
The ideal workspace not only affects morale and productivity at work, but can cultivate innovation and can (and should!) reflect your team's values and work culture. And whether you work in the office, at home, or a hybrid of both, your environment is like the blank first page of your work story, ready for you to set the right scene for professional success.
Ready to embrace the characteristics of an ideal work environment? Read on.
Characteristics of an ideal in-person work environment
It can be difficult to create an ideal in-person environment, since the office needs to be accessible to so many different people with different wants and needs. However, once the basics are covered — employees are safe and the environment is comfortable and clean — there are a few factors to consider for making a space that benefits employee happiness and productivity. How do you tailor the environment so it's not only functional but delightful, priming your whole team for productivity?
With the rise of startup culture came the rise of some pretty out-there trends in office design. From pool tables to bean bags to beer taps in the office, there's a difference between a trendy but ultimately insubstantial perk, and a thoughtfully designed space that uses science-backed design elements to boost employee productivity.
Make it easy on the eyes
The first factor to consider is the one that's admittedly harder to control: location. Your workspace should be easily accessible from different parts of your geographic area, making it fast and easy for employees to commute to from wherever they live. It's also helpful if your office is located somewhere with a nice view (and plenty of windows that allow your team members to take it in).
"Longer distance views, away from computer screens or written documents, allow the eyes to adjust and re-focus, which reduces fatigue, headaches, and the effects of eyestrain in the long term. Views also have a positive impact on wellbeing, in part by providing a psychological connection with other groups of people while in a safe space," the World Green Building Council wrote in a 2015 report.
One way many workspaces achieve a similar effect when they don't have a great view is through open floor plans that create indoor "views". This, combined with greenery, can help bring an outdoor feel into your office space, giving team members great indoor views that can help them feel calm, focused, and productive.
Design for optimal health, wellness, and productivity
The other factor to consider is how your office space is designed. There are numerous studies that show links between increased workplace productivity and different office design elements, from artwork on the walls to workstations that get natural light.
Many modern workspaces are also exploring the ways they can design healthier workspaces. In the COVID age, this often means making sure workspaces are well ventilated with adequate airflow and HEPA air filters to help reduce virus circulation in the office.
A healthy workplace environment also includes comfortable, ergonomic furniture, both in offices and cubicles, and in shared or flex spaces.
Characteristics of an ideal remote work environment
When it comes to creating an ideal remote workspace, it's all about the technology. It's vital for remote and hybrid employees to have the right tools to stay connected, access company materials, collaborate, and perform tasks seamlessly from anywhere. In other words, if your team members are provided with the right tools, they can still crush their job responsibilities (even with the cat on their lap and fuzzy slippers on their feet).
Foster open collaboration about team needs
While it's up to management to provide the right tools for each team member to perform their job duties effectively, choosing those tools should be a team effort.
Management should gather input on team members' preferred tools and working styles, then implement based on feedback. Creating an ideal remote work environment should be an ongoing team effort based on open feedback and collaboration between management and their reports. Since technology is changing all the time, team members might find that their tools become outdated (or there are simply better ones available now).
And team needs aren't limited to just technological tools. Some workers on remote teams crave an office atmosphere, and providing for your employees might mean allowing a stipend for a co-working space or other workspace outside of their home. The important thing is to keep lines of communication open at all times, and listen to team members when they communicate their needs. They know better than anyone what will help them be successful in their roles.
Establish a communication cadence
When teams are remote and distributed, it can be easy to fall into a pattern of Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting — or the exact opposite: a pattern of isolation and non-communication. When creating a remote workspace, another important consideration is your communication cadence, including remote social events to help avoid those feelings of isolation.
While meetings can help remote teams save time by connecting in real-time, it's also crucial to allow for async communication via email or Slack. This can help reduce meeting fatigue, and is necessary since not all communication needs to happen instantly or in real-time.Learn more about Superhuman for Business
And while it's important for remote teams to stay in contact, it's equally important to be realistic about how notifications and the constant connectedness of chat platforms can get in the way of work. Create a culture that allows for uninterrupted focus time, so employees aren't required to answer emails as soon as they arrive or stay online on Slack all day.
How company values and culture contribute to an ideal work environment
There can be no understating the effect that your company's values and culture can have on creating a positive work environment. Part of creating an ideal workplace is fostering a positive workplace culture, and then bridging the gap between these intangible characteristics and your work atmosphere, whether it's in-person, remote, or both.
Positive values and mission statement
Your company's mission statement and values create the foundation for everything else about its work environment. But many companies list values that are lifeless and formulaic: collaboration, integrity, flexibility, etc.
Discovering — and living by — your company's actual values can be more challenging, but much more beneficial to the organization's overall culture. It involves some searching and self-reflection, but if you can identify and uplift unique and inspirational values, it will contribute to making your workplace better than ever — for everyone in it.
Training and professional development
Employees need training that's specific to their role to set them up for success. But more than that, they should have access to professional development opportunities that are tailored to helping them progress their careers. Growth opportunities can be a powerful motivator for your employees. And offering your team the ability to maximize their potential — and earn promotions for it — will not only motivate them, but foster a more positive company culture.
Team commitment to excellence
More characteristics of a positive work environment include unity and shared goals. Your team should share a commitment to excellence that motivates everyone to give every project or task their all. As a leader, you can help foster this shared sense of commitment by sharing it yourself. The team's goals should be your goals and the company's goals, and vice versa.
Team members should be empowered to take care of their health, family, and other responsibilities without work getting in the way. In the pandemic era, work-life balance feels different — especially for those who work from home, and might have trouble un-blurring the lines between time at work and time off. Instead of work-life balance, leaders can strive to promote work-life harmony — a sense that responsibilities outside of work are equally important, and it's necessary to give them equal weight in order to thrive at work and outside of it.
Flexibility, compassion, and understanding
Similarly, today's remote and hybrid workplaces need flexibility, compassion, and understanding — especially from their leaders. More than ever before, our personal lives and work lives are intertwined. Many of us are thriving, now that we're able to clean the house or spend time with family in between work meetings. But the time for rigor in the workplace is over, and the responsibility to embrace flexibility lies with management.
Numerous studies have found that positive reinforcement in the workplace is a more powerful motivator than punishment. What's more, studies have shown a strong link between positive reinforcement and job satisfaction. It's clear that rewarding your employees for a job well done is a great way to get them to consistently do their best work. And on that note…
There's no denying the role that compensation plays in creating incentives for employees to do their best work. Studies show that employees who are well-paid are more satisfied and more loyal to their companies. Compensation is a form of positive reinforcement, and one your company should take seriously (and remember, salary is only one part of compensation — don't forget benefits like vacation time and health insurance).
Team member relationships are a key piece of the puzzle
Relationships between team members, especially between employees and their supervisors, can make or break a work environment. Here are some factors to consider…
Mutual respect should be present in all team relationships — between co-workers, as well as between managers and their reports. As the old adage says, you get the respect you give, which means it's up to leadership to set the expectation — and the example — that respect will be a part of every relationship in your workspace. For example, workplace leaders should:
- Create company norms for behavior in meetings.
- Lead by example by hitting deadlines and following through on their commitments.
- Encourage other employees (and foster a safe environment where participation is always met with respect).
Mutual respect will foster better teamwork and harmony, ideals all workplaces should strive for.
Autonomy vs. micromanagement
Studies show that worker autonomy can have a direct impact on an organization's success. An LRN study released at the World Economics Forum found that companies whose employees had "high levels of freedom" were up to 20 times more likely to succeed than companies whose employees had less freedom.
But there's also a pretty direct link between autonomy and motivation. According to the Self Determination Theory, motivation exists on a spectrum. In order for someone to reach the highest levels of motivation, autonomy must be present.
A hallmark of honest and open communication is authenticity. Truly authentic communication involves listening as well as speaking — a dialogue between managers and employees that creates ongoing conversation.
You've probably noticed that this has been a bit of a theme throughout this article. Managers aren't omnipotent, and for them to help create an ideal workspace, they have to listen to their employees and collaborate with them to provide them with what they need to succeed.
Creating an ideal workspace isn't easy
In fact, it's a lot of hard work.
Creating a great workplace means combining different elements:
- Physical design, for in-person workspaces
- Tools and communication, for remote workspaces
- Company values and culture
- Team relationships
Each of these elements requires different types of effort and consideration, but when providing the right tools and communication for your team, Superhuman is essential. As the fastest email experience ever made, Superhuman will reduce time employees spend on email, as well as offer tools that make asynchronous communication more seamless than ever — like instant event invites, See Your Week, and more.Get Superhuman for your team