Thursday, 1 November 2012

Designing an energy environment – A nest for innovation

Recently, I have moved to a new house (one month ago) and therefore I have had plenty of thinking about 'environment' and the power of having comfortable surrounding.
By extending this thinking to the workplace, I believe that, like our own home, the office structure and the organisational set-up where we work can help us enhance our personal energy or detract from it.
In 'You don't have to go home from work exhausted' Ann McGee-Cooper writes a whole interesting chapter in that respect ('Designing an energy environment- A nest for innovation'). 
The author writes that the work environment can actually be a catalyst for creative thinking and positive energy. “The best way to get an accurate assessment of your individual energy gains and drains is to observe your response to all aspect of your work place. By simply becoming aware of these reactions, you can discover which aspects of your current environment are working for you and which are working against you. The second step is to bring extra high-energy items into your office while reducing the number of energy drains factors”. 
The writer suggest some possible high-energy factors to consider such as:
- personal items included in the work area (photos, artwork, inspirational sayings, humourous items, reminders of past achievements, favorite vacations, indicators of outside interests);
- overall visual aesthetics (color of walls, decorations, style and condition of the furniture, existence of windows and the quality of the scenery outside)
- furniture (Is it comfortable and effective?);
- noise level
- health factors (air quality, lighting, temperature)
- atmosphere (What other settings does your office currently remind you of? What setting would you find appealing – a library nook? An high-tech research area? A creative workroom? A plant-filles sunroom?)
Managers and office policies that encourage individual expression in each employee's work site enhance employee morale and energy levels. Therefore, the author encourage the idea of allowing much more freedom for each employee to decorate and organise his or her own space. “The more personalised and comfortable it can be, the more you will enjoy living in it. It is truly your 'nest'”.
The author also reports the story of an entire company that opted to personalise its settings rather than stick with a conventional office décor (in fact, before that, the environment reflected the corporate taste but not that of the people who spent nine hours there each day). That was done as a way of boosting morale and increasing motivation during a period where the company were experiencing a sagging economy.
Employees were asked to shop for a 'toy' (something they wanted but didn't need and up to $10), bring those items into their work space and note whether the toy made any difference in the way they were feeling. Among the toys there were a yo-yo, a book of poems, a crystal prism, a kite, a teddy bear and a windup jumping frog. The author writes that initially there was some nervous laughther but it soon became genuine joy as people began to discover the power of play. “There was a noticeable new energy. Before long, people were getting acquainted with a new side of each other by viewing and playing with the toys. The fun of sharing childhood memories of games and other kind of play stimulated new topics of conversation and new feelings of warmth. The atmosphere lifted and instead of worrying about slowdowns the groups began to engage in creative problem solving.
Next the employees were encouraged either to rediscover a hobby or find a new one to enjoy. After exploring their ideas for a month, they were asked to bring some aspect of their interest to work with them. “Some each corner of this formerly cold building began to warm up with the personalities of the people who worked there”.
Within six months there were some noticeable changes: absenteeism and days out had dropped significantly, much higher energy and enthusiasm were present in all departments and the bottom line had even improved.
In conclusion, employees were encouraged to fill their work space with items that expressed each individual's interest and preference. Those items were harmonious with their self-image and work style, thus reducing stressors and stimulating extra energy.
If you are a top corporate leader”, writes Ann McGeen-Cooper, “you may feel very nurtured by your traditional corporate office (you are surrounded by awards, pictures and mementos of high points in your career) and easily overlook the message. But go some levels down in the organisation: standard settings are visual reminders that the worker is not special but one of the many.
If by starving the senses we starve the imagination and deplete the renewal of energy for ourselves and others, doesn't it make sense to empower and encourage our team members to create a nurturing environment for themselves?