8 steps to create a productive office culture

Julia Gifford 21.02.2018

Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t need to think about how to get your employees to work more? Wouldn’t it be great, if it just happened all by itself?

That automatic habit of doing isn’t simply coincidence, and neither is it luck. It’s a carefully crafted office culture of productivity.

Though it may come more naturally to some than it does to others, it’s possible to create a positive office culture that oozes productivity in any business.

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Keep in mind that by the time a company’s size reaches 20 employees, the company culture is set. If your company is larger than 20 employees, consider implementing these steps in individual, smaller teams of 20 or fewer.

Here are 8 steps to create a productive office culture:

1. Get the entire team on board the company’s mission

An increasing amount of research is pointing to job satisfaction being a direct result of a sense of purpose. And as the old adage goes, a happy employee is a productive employee.

To lay down the foundations of a happy, productive employee who feels like their work has a sense of purpose, there is one, simple, and crucial thing for you to do as an employer:

Communicate your goals

Tell your employees what your business goals are, what the purpose of your existence is, and what values drive you.

When your employees know what goal everyone is jointly striving for, it’s easier for them to see how their work fits into the grand scheme of things and feel that they’ve contributed to the common goal.

Bonus: when employees are in the know of the company’s goals, they gain the freedom and knowledge to think of additional exercises, tasks, or processes to reach those goals faster. More minds thinking about the same end goal is bound to lead to exponential growth in that direction.

2. Set transparent individual and collective goals

Once you’ve laid the foundation for creating meaningful work independently, the next step that’s required to really give that a boost to work efficiently in a larger organization, is transparency of daily work and tasks.

When we say transparency, we mean creating an awareness of organizational processes and tasks at hand, who’s doing them, and when they should be finished.

When teammates know what everyone is working on, everyone wins. Here are just a few benefits of transparency at work:

  • You avoid duplicate work, because everyone knows what’s going on
  • Tasks get done, because you’ve become accountable to the entire team
  • You avoid petty jealousy, because you realize everyone’s working on their own tasks

How do you implement transparency in the workplace?

We suggest starting with these ideas:

  • Use a task management system. Be that a Gantt chart, Basecamp, Jira, Asana, Trello, or a simple Google spreadsheet
  • Have regular goal setting meeting with the team to discuss main quarterly, monthly, and/or weekly goals and, most importantly, review the progress of these goals at the subsequent meeting
  • Open channels for feedback

3. Provide a change of scenery

For employees to who do intellectual tasks, which require a certain amount of creativity, problem solving, and focus, a change of scenery can be the trigger that’s necessary to boost those productivity juices and move the task along.

Studies have shown that our surroundings trigger effects in our brains – seeing cookies makes us want to eat them, seeing inspirational posters prompts the formation of new ideas, laying down in bed prompts us to start winding down and getting sleepy.

The same can be said about our workspace.

If we return, day in and day out, to the very same desk, the same environment, the same posture, the same plant, then it’s understandable that we will continue to have the same thought process.

When particularly challenging tasks come along, we often find ourselves stuck, unable to shake through.

The simple solution – change the scenery.

A change in scenery will stimulate different parts of the brain, which will in turn stimulate a different thought process.

How do you offer a change of scenery in the office? Here are some ideas:

  • Create different nooks within the office where employees can get away from their desks to do some work. A couch, a pillow corner, whatever
  • Make the break room more inviting, increase sitting space
  • Give employees access to a standing desk situation – whether it’s providing everyone with standing desks with height that can be regulated, or by installing a standing-level ledge where employees can walk up with their laptops

To help employees feel comfortable with changing up the scenery, be sure not only to tell them that they’re free to roam the office, but make sure to lead by example, yourself.

4. Play with subconscious cues to boost productivity in the work environment

Just as changing the space you’re in can change affect your productivity triggers, there are also other environmental cues that can affect daily productivity.

Ambient sound or music has been shown to have an impact on productivity and creativity when it is played in moderation. The Journal of Consumer Research found that both creative and monotonous tasks are performed best when the participants are exposed to ambient sound at a level of 70 decibels. For reference, a regular conversation happens at 60-70 decibels, which may be an indicator as to why many individuals enjoy working at coffee shops.

To replicate ambient sound in your own workspace, consider apps such as Noisli and Coffitivity. Alternatively, you can look for playlists of ambient sounds on streaming services. Regardless of your choice, ambient music can help you stay focused, avoid distractions, and improve overall productivity.

Plants in the office emit oxygen and keep the air clean, providing biological reasoning as to why plants in the office are a good idea. But it goes further – research by the University of Technology, Sydney, has found that the introduction of plants in an office space can have incredible effects on mental health.

The impact of plants on mental health include:

  • 37% reduced tension and anxiety
  • 58% drop in depression or dejection
  • 44% decrease in anger and hostility
  • 38% reduction in fatigue.

Colour has been found to have an impact on productivity. For example, bright colours have been found to cause anxiety, while muted colours stimulate a relaxed state of mind. To create relaxed and unstressed mental vibes in the office, avoid bright red and orange colours. Choose matte paint over glossy paint, as the reflection can make people edgy.

There are many ways to create subconscious mental cues within the workplace – though there isn’t one easy answer, it’s the collection of the little things that makes a difference. Involving plants, ambient music and choosing wall colours wisely, is a good place to start.

5. Offer tools that help get the work done

Give a person a hand saw, and no matter how diligently they work, they’ll never be able to outperform the competitor with a power saw. The same goes for your employees – for them to be as productive as possible, you have to offer the right tools.

The kinds of tools your employees need to be able to work productively can vary. But a general rule of thumb in today’s intelligence-based workforce, is that a computer is a vital day-to-day tool.

Make sure that your inventory is up to date and isn’t causing unnecessary lagging when in comes to getting the job done.

For example, for artists and designers, tools that they need to be able to work include Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and perhaps some work better with trackpad drawing tools. Accountants require software to automate accounting data, and managers might find that employee time tracking or project time tracking alleviates their job while managing a team.

Those who rely heavily on written communication at the workplace might find spell check tools helpful to catch spelling and grammar mistakes before causing an unintended miscommunication.

6. Encourage collaboration among teammates

Collaboration entails pooling together several intellectual resources to reach a common goal.

There are many benefits when it comes to collaboration: you get multiple perspectives about one topic broadens horizons, several perspectives can mean that one person might see a solution that another didn’t, you create a pool of the best knowledge available, the team becomes more involved with each other and therefore more invested in the team’s results, which in turn boost the level of loyalty within the team itself.

Sounds great, right?

So how do you implement collaboration? Here are a few places to start:

  • Have team members participate in brainstorms – make it a practice of bringing together your team members and jointly discussing a matter at hand. Remember, in a brainstorm, there are no wrong answers, it’s just a space where ideas are laid down.
  • Collaborate within documents – Rather than independently trudging away at Word documents, have your team get into the habit of working in Google Docs. They can be easily shared and whenever anyone get stuck, they can send over the document where teammates can leave their suggestions and comments.
  • Encouraging colleagues to pick up where others get stuck – often we find that there are small parts of the workday which acts as barriers to getting any other stuff done. Encourage team members to share with other colleagues when they hit a roadblock. Often it just takes a fresh set of eyes to burst through.

The more often this is done, the better the team gets at it. It’s a case of “practice makes perfect”. But the results will be – more work done, a larger sense of camaraderie, and a higher morale in the office.

7. Encourage breaks away from the computer

In 2014 we found that the most productive people work with frequent breaks in between bouts of working “sprints”. Specifically, on average 52 minutes of working, followed by 17 minutes of breaking.

The insight to these findings is that a break, specifically away from the computer, is crucial to being able to return with a reset mind, ready to tackle the next task at hand.

As an employer, it’s in your interest to make sure that employees are in the best mindset to produce the best possible work. That means not working through lunch, and taking frequent breaks.

How do you encourage taking breaks, as an employer? Here are some ideas:

  • Relocate the coffee/water station farther away from the working space – thereby forcing employees to take more of a walk when they do decide to go for a coffee.
  • Implement a daily stretching session – once per day have a short stretching/strengthening session that any employees are welcome to attend.
  • Ask employees to refrain from eating at their desks – when it’s known that the company culture doesn’t support eating at the desk, the employees are more likely not to do it.
  • Use a break reminder – you can suggest your employees start using the Pomodoro timer or a similar tool to reduce fatigue and burnout.

Need more ideas? Find them in our article about 9 creative ways to force yourself to take breaks and share it with your team.  

8. Celebrate achievements

Possibly the most overlooked feature of creating a productive office culture is employee recognition. Meaningful work is done when employees feel happy, and that their expectations of reward for a job well done are met. To meet these expectations (besides the evident needs of an employee such as financial stability, healthcare, safe working environment), you have to make them feel that their work is noticed, appreciated, and that it furthers the company’s mission (this refers back to point nr. 1).

How do you acknowledge employee input:

  • In your regular goal setting meetings (point nr. 2), acknowledge when an employee has met their goals
  • When an employee has achieved something significant for the company, consider a company-wide email congratulating them
  • Support achievements outside of the professional realm – did an employee just win a bike race? Post about it on social media – you’ll be showing support to your employee (and demonstrating that they’ve made you proud), as well as showing your followers the background of who makes the company work. Win-win!

There are so many ways to make your employees feel appreciated, and for each company it will be a little different. To find the right solution, consider gathering your management team (point nr. 6), to brainstorm ideas about how you can implement small celebrations on a daily capacity.

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