15 Office Improvement Ideas to Create a Better Work Environment

The most successful companies and small businesses tend to be the ones with the happiest employees. Why? Employees who are happy are more motivated, productive, and creative—and will often go the extra mile, not because they have to, but because they want to. In fact, happy workers are 48.4 percent more likely to stay with a company, which reduces costly turnover. On the other hand, staff who don’t enjoy coming to work costs U.S. businesses $300 billion per year in sick time, days off, and on-the-job mistakes.

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A happy workplace is not something that happens by accident, or simply a function of making the right tools available—such as, dare we say, an invoice generator. It’s the product of both physical and intangible changes that makes a more harmonious workplace. Here are 15 things you can do immediately to create a better office environment:

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1. Bring in natural lighting to the work environment.

Not only does natural lighting look better, but there is a strong connection between natural light in the workplace and employees’ quality of sleep and energy. Neurology researchers at Northwestern University found that people who work in offices with windows receive 173 percent more white light (i.e. light from the sun) during work hours and sleep an extra 46 minutes every night. Workers were better rested and therefore in a better frame of mind.

2. Create a clean and comfortable office space.

It doesn’t take a psychologist to tell you that when you are in an area that is attractive, comfortable, and pleasant, you feel better. This is true of both the home and the work environment, so be sure to clear away clutter and broken equipment, and mend flickering lightbulbs and temperamental air conditioning or heating units. And though it may not seem like a big deal, invest in new, ergonomic furniture, plants, updated equipment, and quality coffee and snacks. Your staff will not only appreciate that their well-being is important to you, but they’ll be energetically affected by the space in a positive way.

3. Provide quiet rooms for employees.

Open office layouts are a necessity in many cases, but you should consider providing a few areas where employees can retreat if they need quiet or solitude to concentrate on a difficult project. It can cut down on the stress and interruptions, which improves mood and productivity. You might also think about providing nap rooms, for which Google (among others) is famous. Studies show that a 20 or 30 minute power nap is better than a cup of coffee to boost energy for those people who regularly work long hours, engage in intensive, complicated work, or travel to out-of-town bureaus.

4. Have an open-door policy for team members.

Employees report higher job satisfaction and are more likely to stay at a job where they feel listened to and appreciated. One way to do this is to ensure transparency between managers and workers because conflicts often surface when employees feel left out of the loop or like they are merely indentured laborers. Make it known that you are always available for questions, comments, and concerns. And “open door” should be taken literally—keeping the door open encourages friendly communication.

5. Equip the office with recreational areas for employees.

If you can, make room for outdoor hoops or an indoor ping pong table. Team members will enjoy having a place to get a little exercise or to blow off some steam between tasks. Plus, friendly games with others can lead to better rapport and team cohesion.

6. Outside-the-box benefits for workers.

A number of companies, like Netflix, have started to experiment with unusual benefits like unlimited days off. Worried about excessive absenteeism? Researchers find that people who have access to unlimited time off actually spend more days at work than those with structured PTO. Much in the same way that pay-what-you-want pricing works, the idea is that when forced to come up with their own value system (whether it’s for time, a cup of coffee or a CD), the average person will actually step up to the plate. And in the workplace, the important thing ought to be whether the work is getting done, not how many days it is getting done in.

7. Offer tuition reimbursement for employees.

Starbucks, Apple, Bank of America, Best Buy…these are some of the companies that offer their employees tuition reimbursement. Not only is this a valuable asset to many job applicants, but it’s good business to invest in the education of those already in your employ. By providing reimbursement on expensive school costs, you’re giving them a chance to improve their skills which in turn will benefit your company.

8. Treat employees to lunch once a week.

Every Friday, order food for the entire office and encourage everyone to eat together, whether it’s outdoors or in the conference room. Employees will be grateful for the perk and the act of enjoying a meal together builds camaraderie.

9. Allow workstation personalization.

Your employees spend a good portion of their day at their workstation, so let them decorate their area in ways that are personal and appealing to them. This may mean choosing a standing or adjustable desk, an office chair or a stability ball, and an ergonomic keyboard and mouse. They should feel free to adorn their cubicle or office with personal photos, plants, and desk lamps. When we customize our space, we feel more of a sense of pride, and that pride will extend to everything we do at work.

10. Introduce wellness initiatives.

Consider implementing new and fun initiatives for the purpose of increasing happiness and a sense of well-being. For example, once a month you might award a prize to the person who walked the most miles around the office (after providing them with personal pedometers). Or you might bring in fresh fruit on a weekly basis to help keep hunger at bay with healthy snacks. You could also promote a “bring your son or daughter to work” day or even provide on-site, free childcare during the week.

11. Use collaborative language for employee engagement.

When you give staff direction, the language you use has a big effect on how they perceive what you’re saying and their role in the work. By using phrases like “why don’t we try” instead “you have to,” you demonstrate appreciation and collaboration. No one wants to feel as though they are working for a tsar.

12. Limit meetings, improve communication.

In study after study, workers consistently report that meetings are their biggest productivity killer. The average professional goes to 61.8 meetings per month, 63 percent of meetings don’t have an agenda, and 73 percent of people are doing other work at meetings. Whenever possible, communicate through email, a centralized whiteboard, or other methods that don’t pull people away from projects.

13. Schedule fun activities for a healthy company culture.

Every now and then, a change of pace is fun—and fun makes people happy and relaxed! For instance, celebrate every employee’s birthday with cake and a robust rendition of “Happy Birthday,” go out for drinks on the company one evening per month, or organize softball tournaments. When staff can look forward to a fun reward, it makes going to work a lot more pleasant.

14. Don’t overload your employees.

Be realistic about the amount of work that each employee can handle. An excessive workload, which translates to burnout, is one of the top reasons that people leave jobs. Research shows that productivity goes downhill fast when someone works more than 50 hours. But if you must give an employee more work, show that you value them by also giving them a raise or promotion. Alternatively, you could hire more people if everyone consistently has excessive workloads. This costs you more, but you will see greater retention and productivity in the long-term.

15. Allow staff to set their own hours for better productivity.

The traditional nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday work week isn’t necessarily the most beneficial or productive schedule for everyone. The 8-hour workday is pretty arbitrary, and only became popular around 1914 when Henry Ford cut down his employees’ schedules from 14 hours per day (and doubled their pay!) and saw higher profit margins. Some people simply work better later in the day and would benefit from a later start time. Others have family commitments and would rather work longer hours on fewer days. Whenever possible, let employees choose their own schedules. That will inspire them to work smarter and waste less time.

Every company is different and there is no one-size-fits all solution to workplace harmony. But by fostering a positive office environment, you can help employees be happier and your business, in turn, will enjoy the rewards of greater commitment, longer retention, and increased productivity.

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