I have a friend who started a new job recently. She was pretty excited about the opportunity and was particularly excited about the company she was joining. The company, while relatively small, has a reputation of being progressive and innovative within their field.
My friend had even done work with the company on a contract basis in the past, so she knew the people and was pretty clear on the kind of work she would be doing when she joined full time. All signs pointed towards this being a great fit for her.
But, then came day 1 on the job. After the customary orientation and welcomes, my friend was shown to her new desk. As she sat down at her desk the first time, she made a terrible discovery–she didn’t fit. Her desk was literally and physically too small for her to sit at. She expressed her frustration to one of the management team there, but was asked to make it work for the time being. In addition to this, she’s quickly realized that the office is kept at a pretty cool temperature. While this might be great for some people, for her it means that even while it is 100 degrees outside, she is sitting at her tiny desk wrapped in a blanket while she does her work each day.
As a result, she hates her new job. It isn’t the work she’s doing, the people she works with, the clients she serves or any of the other things we typically think of for why people dislike their jobs. For her, it’s about the physical environment. She’s so uncomfortable each day, that none of the rest matters to her. And, I suspect that it won’t be long before she’ll move on because she’s good at what she does and she has options. It’s a shame.
This story was a reminder to me of how important the physical environment can be to our individual performance. Granted, we can overcome a lot of physical space limitations to perform. But when we think about trying to the get best out of people consistently it’s good to pay attention to space. I still have memories a decade later of an office space I was given that had modular walls that essentially blocked no sound. It was like having an office with no walls. In HR, this presented some challenges and I felt as though those walls were a constant issue that I had to compensate for in my work. Compensation means expending extra effort and that means less than optimal performance.
Over the years, I have also overlooked that fact several of my staff kept space heaters under their desk in their office or cube (despite it being against company policy) because maintenance couldn’t figure out how to regulate temperature to make it tolerable.
Physical discomfort is distracting. I”m currently recovering from a ailment on ball of my right foot. When I stand or walk, it’s impossible not to know that my foot isn’t healthy. Certainly, I can ignore it for periods of time when needed, but that takes energy. I’m not suggesting that as a leader, you should try to give everyone the perfect work space because that’s a losing proposition. But, I am suggesting that you should pay close attention to the physical environment when designing work spaces.
You don’t want people expending energy compensating for your poor work environment. At best, they won’t perform at their best. At worst, they’ll find a new place to work.
So, when one of your best performers (or new hires) comes to you with a concern about the physical space, you should pay attention.