There are hundreds of different work-environment characteristics: Some can be easily measured and quantified — examples being the amount of office space available and the color of the walls. And some are more qualitative — such as general feelings of malaise or enthusiasm that may be rippling through employees. Like any organizational leader, you want the “best” environment, one that will allow your team members to operate at their most productive level and remain satisfied with their jobs for years to come.

Unfortunately, there’s no single “best” work environment. Any one workplace can have characteristics of multiple environments, and how you string them all together depends on your brand, culture and the attitudes of those you work with.

First, the best:

  1. The ‘open skeptic’ environment
    In a skeptical environment, everything is questioned because questions are encouraged. When someone suggests a new marketing strategy, someone else asks why it would work better than the alternative. Questions feed discussion, and because everyone’s asking questions, everyone is moving the company forward. Nobody is judged or reprimanded for his or her ideas, and all ideas are considered equally.
  2. The individual-focused environment
    In an individual-focused environment, the office offers individuals flexibility to customize their own working styles. Some individuals may be allowed to work from home if that doesn’t interfere with their productivity. Others may have flexible hours, and still others may customize their desks and furniture however they like. Everyone works differently, and this environment recognizes and celebrates that fact.
  3. The no-walls environment
    The no-walls environment is all about keeping the team together. There are no offices or enclosed cubicles (or if there are, the doors are open), so employees can speak freely with one another. These environments usually have a common break room, and team-building events to inspire cooperation and mutual appreciation.
  4. The mutual-feedback environment
    This environment favors honest feedback above all other forms of communication. When a worker needs to improve, he or she is told about it. When a boss’ approach is unproductive or inefficient, that communication is made, too. People trust one other to give, listen to and act on mutual feedback, and everyone can improve as a result.
  5. The unified environment The unified environment allows people to operate as individuals, but still focus on succeeding as a team. This type of environment usually sets “team” goals and allows people to work together in smaller groups to accomplish team tasks. Employees are focused on working together, and individually hold themselves accountable for the quality of their work.

 

Now, the worst:

  • The 9-to-5 environment
    A “9-to-5” environment describes more than just working hours; it’s a mentality that says all work needs to conform to certain expectations. Overly strict timetables, strict dress codes, strict protocols, plus strict operations, only restrict the creativity and individuality of your team members.
  • The ‘compartment’ environment
    The compartment environment is the dark twin of the individual-focused environment. Rather than giving individuals flexibility to grow and change, this negative environment forces individuals into silos, closing them off from the group and forcing them to act as individuals. Doing so ruins your hope of achieving a team mentality and leaves individuals feeling isolated and resentful.
  • The sink-or-swim environment
    In a sink-or-swim environment, there is either success or failure, with “no” in between (and usually, failure is unacceptable). This black-and-white view doesn’t allow people to learn from their mistakes, or recognize that despite reaching a goal, their process could be improved. Real life has gray areas; your office should too.
  • The punitive environment
    The punitive environment forgoes rewarding good behavior but still penalizes bad behavior. There are consequences for missed goals or breached procedures, but no rewards for exceptional performance. Such an environment breeds motivation by fear, which is inherently inferior to motivation by enthusiasm.
  • The class-system environment
    In the class system, some employees are objectively better than others: Bosses can’t be questioned, leaders can’t be challenged, and employees must submit to whatever they’re told. This environment breeds resentment and loses focus on ideas and cumulative productivity.

When it comes to maximizing the satisfaction and productivity of your employees, these are some of the best and worst environments I’ve ever seen. Hopefully, you can recognize some of these characteristics in your own place of business and learn from their effects on your team.

Your office doesn’t have to be perfect, nor does it have to conform to any one set of expectations, but it does have to give your employees everything they need to feel appreciated, and motivated to work hard.