How Important are the Physical Surroundings in Motivating my Employees?

Employees want to work in a well-lit environment that has modern furniture and the latest equipment. Some people still want traditional offices. They don't want to work in a cubicle, no matter its size. They want offices with doors they can close when they need privacy to concentrate or make a personal phone call.

Other people like to come to work with their laptop, grab a roll cart, and move to a work station far removed from others where they can concentrate or sit beside a team member and work out a problem. Some people don't mind living in cubicles provided they are bigger than closets and allow for some personalization.

Lighting is also an issue. There are ergonomic issues to consider: People don't want to crane their necks to avoid glare. Fluorescent lighting is still most popular but increasingly companies are moving to full-spectrum lighting, which simulates natural, outdoor light and has been found to reduce fatigue and headaches and increase alertness. It also seems to be easier on the eyes than fluorescent lighting.

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No one loves to work in a cubicle, but they are a reality today. You can make them livable by your placement of workers and cube construction. Don't make employees whose jobs require intense concentration next-door neighbors to employees who are on the phone a lot because of their work. Check to see that cube walls aren't wafer thin so the crackle of paper as it is tossed in a waste basket is heard through the shared wall by a neighbor in the adjoining cubicle.

Even if you only provide cubicles for your employees, your workspace may inevitably convey some sort of hierarchy. Some people may have larger cubes than others; one person may be more centrally located or be in a more desirable location. Don't think that office envy will disappear along with the doors to cubicles. The important thing is that your workspaces allow people to work productively, however that may translate in your department or organization. If people feel as if they can do their best work—whether in an office or cubicle—they won't be as focused on what the person down the hall has that they don't.

Whether they occupy offices or cubicles, let your employees individualize their surroundings. Allow pictures and other personal items within reason. Your employees will feel more comfortable. You may find that cubicles or offices that reflect the personality of the inhabitants can also increase camaraderie and consequently lead to more effective teamwork.

This doesn't mean that you can allow your employees to go wild decorating their offices. Lay down the ground rules for what is inappropriate. For instance, you don't want posters and calendars that might raise sexual harassment concerns. Think about the overall image you want your company to convey. As you visit your staff members, put yourself in the shoes of a customer. If you were visiting, what impression would you get? Some workspaces are more than adequate—they just need some tidying up.

Whatever your office layout, you want conference rooms as well as informal meeting areas that encourage employees to get involved in impromptu discussions, not just scheduled meetings. Employees want to work where they can pop over to a coworker's desk to get some input or advice, access senior management easily when they need to, and discuss projects with coworkers as they pass them in the hall or are in the printer area to pick up a report.