What are the Keys to a Great Working Environment?
Author: Jérémy Bourhis
30th January 2018
Employees often spend more time with their colleagues than the people they live with. It’s therefore important that they’re happy in their work environment.
Working closely with the HR sector, we hear stories everyday of companies that have created good and bad work environments.
We like to think we have a happy, encouraging, and productive work environment at Cronofy, but it’s never something we’ve discussed. So, I put together some questions and sent them to the rest of the team to see what they thought. I added my answers as well.
In hindsight, it was interesting to see how different people interpreted the term ‘work environment’. Some people immediately thought about physical comfort. For others, it was linked to company culture and overall atmosphere.
In reality, they’re both equally important. A stifling atmosphere can hamper productivity and damage employees’ moods outside of work just as much as an ancient chair with no padding can cause back problems.
Give employees a happy atmosphere and a decent chair, though, and you’ll be surprised what a difference it can make.
How much does your working environment influence your productivity and effectiveness?
Kristina (Content Marketer): I think it makes a huge difference. If you don’t feel comfortable at work – physically or emotionally – you won’t be able to concentrate. You therefore won’t be able to work to the best of your ability, your output will suffer, and your confidence may take a hit, too.
Adam (CEO and Co-founder): Choice of working environment is really important to me. Being tied to a particular office or location doesn’t support my work style or lifestyle. Regular face-to-face time with colleagues is critical but it can come at a price. Being around teammates is invigorating and the interactions possible are socially rewarding but productivity can suffer due to interruptions. This is especially true of coworking spaces where the noisy habits, phone calls, etc. of non-colleagues can get especially grating.
I’ve worked hard over the years to make sure I’m self-sufficient and can work anywhere, be that trains, airports, offices, coworking spaces, home, or coffee shops. The flexibility allows me to be productive wherever I am and there’s a decent set of headphones for the annoying stuff.
Being tied to a particular office or location doesn’t support my work style or lifestyle. – Adam Bird, CEO and co-founder
Stephen (Senior Developer): Part of my job requires me to concentrate for long periods of time so it’s useful to keep distractions to a minimum. I’ve also found that having the right sort of light can really benefit my working day, for example using daylight-colored lighting.
When working remotely it’s very easy to feel isolated and I find the general chatter of Slack and Basecamp really helps me feel part of something bigger.
Garry (CTO and Co-founder): Not much, with a laptop and a set of noise-cancelling headphones I can work pretty much anywhere. Working remotely requires a high level of discipline that’s now second nature. If you think it’s easy to goof off when you’re in an office, it’s way easier when no-one can see you and all your toys are nearby.
Alex (Senior Account Executive): People’s impact from work environment varies greatly. For me, the environment does impact me in either a positive or negative way. Noise and regular distractions via general chatter or via tech channels such as Slack can prove disrupting when working on more testing work. Conversely in the sales environment, when making calls, I prefer having background noise rather than sheer silence – nothing makes you more aware of your own voice.
Jeremy (Marketing Manager): I want to look forward to getting to the office and that’s why it is so important to spend a day in a positive working environment where people are involved and want to share their ideas with you. When I bounce ideas off the rest of the team I achieve more and feel more creative.
From a physical standpoint, I can sometimes struggle with noise. That can really take me off my focus so that’s something I need to deal with to stay productive and happy. But that’s nothing a pair of headphones can’t fix!
I also like the flexibility to be able to work from home when I want to be able to focus on a task that requires my total focus.
What is the element of your working environment that you won’t compromise on?
Kristina: Communication. It’s so, so important for team members to listen to one another. When someone new joins a team it can be intimidating for them to speak up and voice their ideas; businesses need to create a culture where people feel like they can speak up regardless of how long they’ve been there.
It’s also important for other teams to communicate with one another. If sales and marketing don’t work together, for example, it can lead to mixed messages or a confused lead generation process that reflects badly on the company. It can also mean that their goals don’t line up and everyone works towards different things.
Adam: Quality internet connectivity and, to a lesser extent, power, are key. This then gives me access communications tools to keep me in touch with the rest of the team if I’m not with them.
Stephen: Effective tools to communicate and using the right one for the type of conversation. For example, Slack is great for generating ideas but is really bad for long-form communication.
As a developer, I also really like to have a big screen so I can split my work up and work on multiple things at a time.
Garry: For places I work frequently, my posture. I can work in a hunched-up mess for a day or two, but if it becomes a regular thing I end up getting aches in my neck, back, and shoulders.
The key elements of this for me are:
- Roughly parallel thighs – I’ve had a footrest to ensure this in various places
- Having the top of my monitor slightly above eye-level, about 50cm away. This doesn’t require anything special – there’s always a book on VB5 or something (dev joke, don’t mind Garry) knocking around that will do the job.
These mean I have a straight-ish back and neck, and relaxed legs. I’ve achieved this with all sorts of combinations of desk and chair with the same result. Bonus is it’s often easier to get a footrest and monitor stand sorted out than changing your desk and/or chair.
Alex: As a remote worker, my requirements are different. A bright room with a comfortable seat and most importantly good internet are paramount.
Jeremy: I’d say communication with the rest of the team no matter where they are based. We work in a partly distributed team so without strong communication tools it could feel lonely quickly and I wouldn’t enjoy that.
I expect my employer to provide me with the communication tools I need as well as foster an environment where conversations and discussions are encouraged.
I expect my employer to provide me with the communication tools I need as well as foster an environment where conversations and discussions are encouraged. – Jeremy Bourhis, Marketing Manager
Can you tell us one positive or negative experience you have had when it comes to a past or current workplace?
Kristina: I used to work for someone who was very critical of everyone and everything. Despite dishing out large amounts of criticism, said person could not take any feedback themselves. If you tried, they’d become even more adamant that they were right.
It was an unhealthy atmosphere and created a culture of fear that was very difficult to shake off at the end of the day.
Adam: Having a ‘work anywhere’ approach to the last 10-plus years has afforded me flexibility to attend school sports days – and win a dad’s race once – as well as to have late-night conference calls with US and Australian clients. Choice is the most positive aspect.
I’m not a fan of office dogs. A couple of times in coworking spaces owners have been pretty oblivious about hygiene, noise, and general disruption brought by their furry beloveds. You need a level of empathy to work well in a coworking space.
Stephen: I can remember having an office where we had 2 toilets between 30 people, that was pretty unpleasant – getting the basics right is really important.
Garry: I’ve got the standard open plan office nightmares, the worst of which was a long time ago doing some consultancy. It was an open plan office, where 80% of the space was a call center. Just through a thin dividing wall was the factory floor. Everywhere else I’ve worked has been a graveyard in comparison to that place. Thankfully there was only a few days where I needed to be onsite.
As for positive, having the freedom to work remotely is by far the most positive experience for me. It’s not for everyone but I’ve really valued having that extra bit of opportunity to see my kids growing up. If I were commuting to London every day I’d basically not see them Monday to Friday.
Having the freedom to work remotely is by far the most positive experience for me. It’s not for everyone but I’ve really valued having that extra bit of opportunity to see my kids growing up. – Garry Shutler, CTO and co-founder
Alex: In my previous job they started to change the modular sales teams around too regularly that team bonding died out and the sense of shared ownership dwindled.
Jeremy: There are a couple of examples that come to mind. In my current role, we really promote dialogue and encourage debate. This makes a huge positive impact on the working environment. No matter which colleague I talk to I feel like my opinion is valued. When we set objectives it’s easier to get everyone’s buy-in.
In one of my previous jobs, we had to go through an office refurbishment. The idea was great – we were going to get a really nice office after about 4 months’ worth of work. Unfortunately, during these 4 months, they relocated us to a corner of the office that was previously used for storage. There were no windows and no light. It was gloomy and I could tell straight away it negatively impacted the team. We weren’t looking forward to come to the office and no one was staying any longer than they needed to.
If you had to give advices to businesses trying to improve the environment they provide to their employees what would it be?
Kristina: Be there for your employees. Don’t just treat them like faces behind desks. Everyone wants or needs something. Nurture that. Encourage them. Work with them through their mistakes instead of blaming them. Their confidence will grow in response.
Look after your employees, and they’ll look after your business.
Look after your employees, and they’ll look after your business. – Kristina Proffitt, Content Marketer
Adam: Choice. Make sure people have the ability and tools to work where they need to. At Cronofy we work in a hybrid model distributed between two offices, homes, and traveling, so work environment choice is part of our DNA.
However, we also make sure that everyone spends at least one day a week with at least one colleague and that the entire team comes together once a month. The power of face-to-face time and sharing a meal and activities together is critical to maintaining our working relationships.
Stephen: Recognize that different people need different things from their environment. For example, do they do a job which benefits from having a quiet working environment or does the team work better when there is more noise?
Garry: Two things spring to mind. For one, ask them how they’d improve the environment. It’s baffling that the people themselves are often not consulted on changes that are intended to improve things for them.
The second is don’t buy a foosball, ping pong, or pool table. And if you really insist on purchasing your culture, put it in a sound-proof room on a separate floor. Everyone place I’ve *crack* been that has *smash* had one or more *plonk* parts of *smash* their building rendered *crack* useless for *plink* doing work. [sic]
Alex: Allow your team to learn from their mistakes and generate/test their own ideas. This makes them rightly accountable for their work and more responsive and ultimately successful.
Jeremy: People want to be happy at work and they want to work with other happy people. The best way to achieve this is to ask employees what they value and what they want for their working environment. And don’t just listen to them. Take it into account and act on it.
I’d also recommend fixing the obvious. If your office is starting to look a bit tired don’t wait to refurbish!
We’d love to hear your opinion. Head to twitter and tell us what you value most in your working environment!
Date: 30th January 2018 | Category: Cronofy