Work Environment Matters

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 Call centers with outdated signage or dirty rugs have worse results than those with creative recognition boards and clean break areas.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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

Posted in Employee Engagement & Energy, Results & Execution.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of 3 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. Great point.

    I notice the “rock salt” when I go to another place of business.

    When I see a biz pay attention to the small stuff, great leadership isn’t too far away.

  2. It starts at the desk. A few years ago I totally reworked my office and established new work rituals to ensure a clean and organized office. With very little effort, I started to notice my team cleaning up their areas. Then, the overall office. This was followed by our “back rooms”…and with 28 buildings on campus….we have a lot of back rooms. Over time our entire facility upkeep improved. With new staff I now tell them….”It starts at the desk.”

    Great post as always. On a side note… I took a total break last week from being online as we launched Summer 2013 with our first week of camp. We are into week two and my team this year is extremely strong. We used a lot of your post in the past 4 weeks of training our team. Thanks for helping us launch another strong summer of camp.

    • Eric,
      My desk in my corporate office is clean, but my home office not so much. I need to get better in that arena as well. I know it would help. I am so delighted to hear that camp is going well. I am so glad that you were able to use some of my posts.

  3. Yes, yes, and yes.

    I’ve become a stickler for a good work environment, especially since becoming a solopreneur again (for now).

    Paint colors matter. Decorations matter. Desk space and setup matter.

    I use a standing desk and think others should too. That matters. It matters to blood flow which matters to your brain.

    Years ago we let team members pick the paint colors from a selection of about 20 colors. In total, about an hour of management time and 10 minutes for each team member was spent…picking out paint. Why? Because they were going to have to look at it for five years. It’s important. The science proves it.

    Granted, you might end up with a sales team having blinding yellow walls that you need to repaint after a month, but that is worth the risk. (It actually happened)

    • At the office yes. When I work from home, like tomorrow (wife has a doctor appointment), no.

      I am 25% more productive with it than without it.

      I keep a stool (not comfy) that I still on for about 10 minutes every hour or two if I get tired.

      The key: great carpet or a great rug. I have the latter. Makes all the difference. 🙂

  4. What a great lesson to be learned here. How many times do we simply act as if the appearance from the back door doesn’t matter. We need to always execute in areas everyone sees and I the areas they don’t. The back door slacking will eventually make it to the front door. Thanks for sharing!

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