Dr. Nicole Tschierske

Optimising Your Work Environment for Peak Performance

Where you work significantly impacts how you work. Would you choose a run-down lab over a modern facility, or a noisy open space over a quiet individual office? Your physical environment plays a crucial role in your performance, job satisfaction, motivation, and stress levels. Let’s explore how the workspace influences these factors and discover ways to create a conducive work environment for you and your team.

Ergonomics, a vital aspect of workplace design, aims to safeguard employees from long-term musculoskeletal and nerve injuries resulting from poor body positioning and muscle use. Several elements come under the umbrella of ergonomics:

1. Lighting and Daylight: A well-lit environment, preferably with large windows offering outdoor views, enhances comfort and productivity. Adequate lighting not only aids in task completion but also contributes to aesthetic appeal.

2. Noise and Noise Control: Noise levels significantly impact comfort and productivity. Reducing noise, through measures like sound-absorbent materials, is essential. However, efforts can be negated if organizations overcrowd spaces for collaborative and individual work.

3. Office Furniture and Layout: The design of workstations affects team satisfaction and performance. Factors to consider include desk size, ergonomic chairs, easy access to materials, and the balance between open spaces and private, enclosed workspaces. Research indicates that privacy contributes to higher psychological comfort.

When the physical environment impedes your work, it becomes a source of stress. Common scenarios that result in this include:

  • Inability to concentrate due to excessive noise.
  • Difficulty in viewing screens due to harsh lighting.
  • Physical discomfort caused by inadequate furniture.

These factors, when persistent and intense, drain your energy, leading to frustration, decreased motivation, and lower job performance. Beyond health and safety, physical comfort directly influences performance and productivity, making it a priority for organizations.

Ergonomics then is one contributor to comfort. There are several dimensions of comfort at work:

1. Basic Comfort: Meeting the need for safety, hygiene, and accessibility. Subpar facilities that lack essential amenities fall short of these basic standards.

2. Functional Comfort: Pertaining to ergonomic factors discussed earlier. Adequate furniture, appropriate lighting, and privacy considerations are essential for functional comfort.

3. Psychological Comfort: Arises from a sense of belonging, ownership, and control over your workspace. It profoundly impacts your well-being and job satisfaction.

How much attention and energy you and your team must divert to cope with the work environment directly influences your work. Research supports the need for organizations to be intentional and smart about workspace design, accounting for the type of tasks, the work environment, and individual privacy preferences.

Distractions in the workplace, while common, disrupt focus, drain energy, and lead to compensatory overtime. They hinder collaboration and increase stress. Quiet spaces within an open office are a necessity to mitigate these challenges.

Access to nature, like indoor plants or views of greenery, brings physical, psychological, and cognitive benefits to employees. Privately working without interruptions, coupled with efficient communication with the team, emerges as a priority for various roles. Private offices have been linked to higher perceived productivity, illustrating the value of personal workspaces.

Organizations and leaders should actively assess environmental demands and resources within their workspace and make proactive changes, including:

  • Mitigating environmental demands, such as creating silent work areas.
  • Enhancing environmental resources, like incorporating interior plants.
  • Making small adjustments and introducing flexible work policies to improve overall workspace navigation.

Your work environment significantly impacts your well-being, motivation, and performance. By acknowledging its importance and actively shaping the workspace, you can create an environment that fosters productivity and satisfaction for you and your team.

(This article is based on a chapter in Better Work: A Leader’s Guide to Creating Happier, Healthier, and More Productive Workplaces.)

Further Reading

Better Work Basics​