What Is the Best Working Environment?

You Need to Care About Mental Space as Much as Physical Environment

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Bart Cleveland Bart Cleveland
We're almost finished with our new building. After two years of careful planning, we are about to move to a place specifically designed for the way we work and, more importantly, who we are. It's a LEED certified building, very eco-friendly, which is nice on one's conscience; but we also designed it to assure our ability to deliver creativity and quality work. There will be many collaboration areas where small teams can tuck themselves away to do their best thinking. There are places to scribble ideas on the walls and pin up scraps of paper. There are conference rooms that will give us the latest technology to share our thinking with our clients. It should be a sanctuary for excellence.

Thus, our work should get even better. But will it? Is this physical environment we've created that important to make us better? No. I've seen many agencies that have amazing offices, yet the work on their walls is the equivalent of a creative hovel. Physical workspace makes little difference if our "mental workspace" is ill designed and constructed. The mental workspace is where the will of your employees truly lives. If you design it correctly, you allow them to do better work.

Plenty of workspace
Does your mental work environment have big rooms for people to spread out and try lots of things? Or is the space cramped, the wall space minimal, allowing room for only what the client is expecting? Give your employees room to explore. Give them freedom from the "internal ax." If your employees don't feel free to stick their neck out without getting it chopped off, they will never give you their best thinking.

Comfortable furniture
Does your mental workspace feel like a law office or a spa? Can people relax, knowing that their best efforts will be appreciated? Does the place feel at home, or ill at ease? Is it a den of iniquity or friendly competition? There's nothing like a favorite chair where you feel safe and secure. Like that chair, a mental workspace must be extremely comfortable, a place where a person feels he can be himself.

Beautiful interior design
Is your mental workspace designed for efficient work to be achieved? Or, is it a mish-mash maze that presents one obstacle after another? Is there clutter everywhere? Does the environment suggest a lack of organization and focus? If your mental work environment isn't organized and doesn't exude an appreciation for craftsmanship, it will certainly affect the quality of work your agency is able to produce. The biggest help to the work is the strategy with a message that is distinct and clear. The nugget of gold has been found. It is pure, ready to be fashioned into a workable instrument for the client's benefit. If you haven't provided this, your mental workspace is a mess.

Protection from the elements
It doesn't matter how beautiful you make your mental workspace -- if there are holes in the ceiling, the weather is going to ruin everything. Without proper shelter, weather (i.e. the concerns, questions and fear that inevitably come from clients) erodes good thinking and if left unchecked, the faith of the thinker. A good mental workspace doesn't permit the continuous barrage to overwhelm the work or the workers. It gives them room to find an answer to the concerns and questions without compromising the work.

Maybe you feel your mental workspace is not ill designed. When we began to design our new building, before we even hired an architect we gathered input from our employees. We asked them to name 10 words that described the kind of physical place that would allow them to do their best work. Their responses were very enlightening. It may be worth asking your employees to describe the mental workspace they believe will help them do their best. Don't be offended if they tell you they don't like the design of their current environment. Be willing to change the space for the sake of the work and your employees.

As I watch our new building near completion, I realize its design will surely enhance our ability to do our best. But I also realize that the workspace that is most important, the one that has set our feet on the path to excellence, has already been designed and built. It is between the ears of each one of our employees. It is the responsibility of my partners and myself, with the help of our employees, to keep it impeccably maintained.
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