Is your environment stifling your performance?

Sue WillcockFood for Thought

Where you workAll too often, I meet technical experts who don’t look beyond their office to create an environment conducive to working at their best. Going “back to the office” after a meeting or even having an office style environment at home is often still considered the norm as an effective place to work.
Clearly, offices have many benefits – they can be a hub for collaboration and ideas sharing as it’s where colleagues share a space. And of course, they usually house lots of the equipment you may need to do your job such as a super fast printer and decent WiFi.
However, today’s leader increasingly has to manage virtual teams and is able, through the use of technology, to live more of a nomadic existence.
In this post I invite you to think about how you define work and productivity – for you and your teams – and how you then choose the right environment in which you make it happen.
When developing leaders, I often meet with the idea that ‘work’ is about sitting at a desk.

Inspiring creativity through colour

Inspiring creativity through colour

A group of designers I recently worked with said it was not the cultural norm to leave the office to go and work elsewhere such as in a coffee shop as they were expected to be at their desk. In one construction firm, there was a question as to whether a meeting room could be re-organized to meet the specific needs of a group – the question baffled me, as, if we always start with the outcome that we are trying to achieve, it may be that it’s best to have no tables, no chairs, to go outside, or just to take a walk together.
Picking an environment that supports the outcome you want can be enormously powerful. Want to inspire your team? Take them somewhere inspiring. Want time to reflect? Work somewhere that allows you to reflect, perhaps with some greenery. It sounds obvious, but all too often I see people trying to work in an environment that is just not conducive to what they are trying to achieve.
We focus on the time it will take not how the outcome will be positively impacted.
A 2015 study at The University of Melbourne reported that even a ‘micro-break’ spent looking at greenery altered performance for the better – the headline, from The Washington Post read “Just looking at nature can help your brain work better”.
Even without such studies, I believe we all know instinctively what works for us – we just sometimes do not feel empowered or that we have permission to make a change to work in a way that is the most effective way of working for us. This type of working requires trust – by you with your teams and from you own line manager. You need to be being measured on outcomes not tasks and time at your desk.
Relaxing and not thinking about something is often when problems get solved.

Relaxing and not thinking about something is often when problems get solved.

Where possible, I engineer my working practices so that they are conducive to an environment that suits the way my brain works at its best. This can mean planning a week where at some point, I work early in the morning in a coffee shop as I know the buzz makes me work faster on a specific type of task, such as writing a report. For tasks that require creativity, I often chose to walk the dog first, then come back to my home based office full of ideas and a load of post it notes. For mundane tasks such as logging my expenses, I often use a train journey or plug in my headphones to listen to upbeat music to get them done as fast as possible.  Sometimes deliberately “not thinking” and instead relaxing over with a mundane task can solve problems as my brain is not applying logic or a filter to my thoughts.
Here are some questions and ideas that aim to give you food for thought on how to think about the environment you (and your teams) work in and the positive impact it can have on productivity.

  • What does your brain like doing at different times of the day?
  • How can/do you build this into your week and your approach to time management?
  • What sort of space do you need to think?
  • Where would you work best if you needed to focus and work at speed?
  • What sort of space do you need for creative solutions?
  • What environment might work best to get your point across in a team meeting?
  • What kind of environment will get you to you result the quickest way?

Where might you work best this week and how might you manage place as well as time?  If you look at your current to do list, are there places to get the things done that you need to do, for the best outcome?  Not just ‘desk’ or ‘home’, but…

  • In the office
  • On a train
  • In your garden
  • In a coffee shop
  • Walking
  • At a specific external venue (e.g. a site visit, an exhibition)
  • On a sofa
  • At home
  • In silence
  • In noise
  • Alone
  • With others