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4 Ways to Improve Your Office's Work Environment

image for Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock
Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Your work environment impacts your mood, drive, mental health and performance. If employees work in a dreary office setting with unfriendly workers, they likely won't have enough confidence or job satisfaction to speak up. That's why creating a positive work environment is critical to your company's success.

Creating a positive work environment more deeply motivates and engages your employees, leading to higher job satisfaction and employee retention within your organization, not to mention less stress among your employees. A healthy work environment gives you and your employees opportunities to share ideas for your company's success that can help your organization grow. A healthy office environment can also boost your employees' productivity and reduce your chances of dealing with frequent absenteeism and, in certain industries, workers' compensation and medical claims.

On the other side of a positive work environment is a toxic work environment. A lack of proper communication among employees – or, worse yet, communicating unclear or incorrect information – is a key sign of a toxic work environment. A lack of work-life balance or time off may also indicate a toxic work environment. The most obvious indicator of a toxic office environment is that the company's culture prioritizes business outcomes at the expense of employee retention, job satisfaction and mental health.

A positive work environment equally prioritizes business success and employee happiness. If you’re focusing on creating a positive work environment, make sure that your company's culture includes work-life balance (such as by allowing remote work), unobstructed flow of ideas among employees and management with no fear of harsh criticism, and reasonable policies for vacation and paid time off.

When creating a positive work environment, you should also think about your office space in and of itself. Keep the following questions in mind:

  • Do your employees have enough space to complete their work without taking up somebody else's space?
  • Are you giving your employees proper privacy while ensuring they remain transparent about how they're using their time on the job?
  • Are you offering spaces where employees can go to take breaks or discuss work matters with their co-workers?

That said, creating a positive environment extends far beyond your office space. You should also ask yourself these questions:

  • What opportunities do you provide for gathering your employees outside your office space for fun group activities that can increase team morale and help achieve your company's mission?
  • Are your employees clear on what your company's mission is?
  • Do you permit remote work when your employees feel sick or need to take care of personal needs at home?
  • How many vacation days, personal days, sick days and paid days off do you allow?

These questions can help you in creating a positive work environment, but above all, common sense, tact and empathy – in other words, seeing your employees as humans rather than just business tools – are key. Here are four ways you can improve your work environment and, in turn, employee engagement.

Successful businesses know that a positive work environment starts with hiring the right people. Make sure your employees are professional and team players. The same idea translates to those who are already in the office. When employees work with toxic people, they are more likely to become toxic themselves, tumbling your company into a toxic work environment.

"It's amazing to watch one bad attitude affect everyone's daily performance," said Claire Marshall Crowell, chief operating officer of A. Marshall Hospitality. "I can't tell you how many times I have been thanked after letting poisonous employees go. Though it's a hard thing to do, it ultimately impacts the working environment, which can be felt by not only our employees but also by our [customers]." 

Lighting plays a vital role in workers' performance and attitude. An article from MBA@UNC, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's online MBA program, states that exposure to natural light improves mood, energy and mental health, greatly impacting focus and productivity. But according to a survey by Pots Planters & More, nearly half of office workers said there is little to no natural light in their office.

If it's not possible to incorporate natural lighting through windows, there are other options. Blue-enriched light bulbs may reduce fatigue and increase happiness and work performance, according to the article. Use this type of lighting in brainstorming rooms. In meeting or break rooms, use warmer tones to promote calmness and relaxation. In conference rooms, use middle tones that welcome workers while keeping them alert.

A clean, attractive office can have tremendous effects on the relationships between co-workers and managers, said Mike Canarelli, CEO and co-founder of Web Talent Marketing.

"Even if the sun can't shine into your workplace, make an effort to provide a relaxing atmosphere with comfy furniture, working equipment and a few extra-mile amenities," he said.

For example, give your employees the flexibility to work where they're comfortable. You could fill the office with comfy chairs and also give them a choice of whether to sit or stand at their desks.

According to the Pots Planters & More survey, people who label their work furniture as "bad" are three times more likely to consider their office environment less productive and twice as likely to find it "depressing."

"Make it easy for [workers] to purchase things like exercise balls and plants on the company dime," said AJ Shankar, CEO and founder of litigation software company Everlaw. "We also trust our employees to manage their own time. They're free to take breaks to play games or just recharge as necessary."

When employees choose a space that makes them comfortable, give them the freedom to customize their area, as everyone works differently, said Josh Turner, CEO of user feedback platform UsersThink. He suggests getting rid of the "same-issued everything" and giving everyone a budget to customize their own setup. 

Be mindful of how you interact with employees. Team members and upper management should focus on their communication methods and the effects they have on creating a positive work environment.

"Employees are motivated and feel valued when they're given positive reinforcement and shown how their work contributes to the success of the business," said Dominique Jones, chief people officer at HEXO Corp. This means offering employees specific feedback on how their work contributes to the broader organization objectives.

But employees shouldn't be the only ones being evaluated. Managers should be open to feedback as well, said Samantha Lambert, director of human resources at Blue Fountain Media.

"When you involve your staff in decision-making in an effort to create a better work environment, they feel valued," Lambert said. "Don't be afraid to ask employees for their opinion on a new benefit offered, or what they think of a new client project."

While you're working on communication, don't forget to show gratitude for hard work. According to David Sturt, executive vice president of marketing and business development at the O.C. Tanner Institute, effective employee recognition can transform and elevate an organization.

"It ignites enthusiasm, increases innovation, builds trust and drives bottom-line results," he said. "Even a simple 'thank you' after an employee goes above and beyond on a project, or puts in a series of late nights, goes a long way."

Sammi Caramela, Shannon Gausepohl and Brittney Morgan contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Max Freedman

Max Freedman is a freelance writer who covers best business practices for business.com and culture for publications including The A.V. Club, MTV, Paste, FLOOD, and Bandcamp. He lives in Philly and doesn't miss his native New York.