It was a ridiculously hot July day. As a Retail Store Director, I was out on “store visits” with one of our top executives. Such excursions always feel like you’re on the hot seat, even on a cool day. My bosses boss was looking for evidence of strong execution, a positive work environment, and delighted customers. We went in the back door. He asked, “Karin, do you think it’s going to snow today?”
“Huh?” Had the heat gone to his head? And then I looked down at the big tub of rock salt prominently placed next to the door. People had clearly been walking by it for months. I knew the rest of the visit was going to go downhill. Sloppy backrooms signal inattention in other areas. It was a terrible visit.
The Broken windows theory works in business too. When leaders tolerate sloppy backrooms, disorganized inventory, or gum on the sidewalks, it’s easier to grow to lazy in other areas. I now have a job that lets me in the “backrooms” of other companies. The theory plays out. Call centers with outdated signage or dirty rugs have worse results than those with creative recognition boards and clean break areas. Effort begets effort. A cared for work environment encourages deeper commitment. Human beings care when they are cared about.
Creating a Better Physical Work Environment
- Involve the team in the design
Provide the parameters and then ask for input. I’ve been amazed at the productivity gains by just involving the teams in a few simple work environment changes. Many choices don’t involve additional costs, and the payoff in satisfaction is well worth the time. Input can happen at a company, department or team level. Involvement provides a positive sense of control.
- Explain the linkage
Explain why work environment matters. Share the vision of a clean and attractive place to work. In one company I work with, the center director came in and painted all the training rooms himself. An important symbolic gesture, well-received.
- Establish and reinforce clear standards
Define standards. For example, no food left in the fridge more than a day. All posters and signs up-to-date. No pizza boxes left on tables etc. This sounds silly, but even highly paid professionals get sloppy and annoy their peers.
- Leave room for fun.
Zappos is famous for their creative work environment (see pics), but many other companies are doing as well. Themes work well. Lighten it up and change it up. Creativity creates energy and fun.
How important is the physical work environment in your world?