Often going unnoticed, office atmosphere is something that, even when noticed, people don’t generally work to change. It’s a hard discussion as many of the things that make up an office’s atmosphere are related to the people. Or so I assumed when I set out on this journey.
What I found out was that people actually care (mostly) less about the people around them and more about the things that can’t talk.
From noise to temperature, smell, cleanliness and uniqueness. I’m going to go through our insights on what our office atmosphere is like and how we could improve based on anonymous feedback from everyone who attends the office.
I hope that you can get a few good takeaways from this or even run the same type of study in your own office to improve your atmosphere and make everything happy.
Let’s start with our office as it is now to give you a better understanding of what we’re working with.
The Digital Noir HQ is located in a co-working building where we have our own space that fits 11 reasonably sized desks and a separate meeting room across the corridor. Three of our walls are glass that look into the other areas of the co-working space and the last is made up of windows that look across an alley to a big concrete building. We have a few plants scattered around, an obligatory water cooler, an essential oil diffuser that is occasionally turned on and a collection of random items that have been acquired over the years, scattered around on windowsills and shelves.
It’s safe to say our office doesn’t look like some stuffy corporate office and we think we have it all worked out pretty well. So, let’s jump into what people do and don’t like about our place of work, starting with the building itself.
The trials and tribulations of a co-working building.
So being in a building that you don’t own/aren’t responsible for has some benefits and detriments.
As we don’t own the building, we aren’t responsible for (pro) or able to control (con) it’s upkeep. Cleaning and maintenance are causing a few big bumps in our road to the best office atmosphere. There is a resounding dislike for our air conditioner unit that sounds like a jet engine starting up and never keeps the office at a comfortable temperature, like the thermostat is on a pendulum. If we could, we would never turn it on and rip it out of our lives. Unfortunately it’s also connected to neighbouring offices, so we can’t do that. I’ll briefly mention the massive hole in our meeting room which is covered by a sheet of cardboard and yet to be fixed which causes some in our office tremendous discomfort.
The benefits of this building that our team likes include, the cafe on the bottom floor for scheduled and impromptu coffee breaks, the sparkling water tap installed in the kitchen, the free beer & snacks and the outdoor area on the roof to chill out and soak up some sun. All of these things are big perks and just generally convenient. If they didn’t exist no one would be any wiser, but because they do they add to the general feeling of a complete office space. This brings me to the next topic which is that people don’t actually notice the good or bad until things change for better or worse.
The air-conditioner, mentioned previously, is a great example of this. When it was permanently on we never noticed the sound, but as soon as it was turned off and a calming silence descended over the office everyone clued onto the devastating impact the jet engine was having on our atmosphere! Natural light is a big yes from everyone (when it’s not shining in their eyes or causing glare on their monitor) that only became apparent when we got our new meeting room which is dark with no windows to the outside world. Pets in the office (specifically Finley) are another thing we didn’t know we were missing until they were here. Friendly pet greetings as you enter the office and brightening up everyone’s day with cuddles at just the right moment is one of the most mentioned things that people like in our office atmosphere.
For our next stop on this journey, we’re going from the unintentional to the intentional.
Most offices will put in some effort to try and make a nice working atmosphere and we are no exception. I previously mentioned the free snacks provided by our building are a nice little perk , so much so that we decided to expand on it and also create our own snack box that contains everyone’s favourite chips and chocolates to chow down on (when it’s not empty).
Over the years we’ve had many office layouts to suit the ever changing number of people in the team. From long lines of desks to small clusters, our latest layout is the wildest yet – which has divided the office due to it’s unusual nature. Our desks are now staggered in a zig-zag type pattern across the office which has proven to be awesome for inclusivity, group discussions and banter but less so for focused working.
(Desk Layout diagram)
Last, but definitely not least, music! One of the most contentious subjects on the planet as everyone has their own tastes, yet we have a speaker blasting out all sorts of music for most of the day, every day. This is mostly well received – except when you’ve heard the same song 20 times in a week (or someone is singing along out of key and that’s not your thing). Which is a great segue straight into the inhabitants of our office that also contribute to the atmosphere.
What would an atmosphere be without people to observe and interact with it? No, this isn’t a “tree falling in the woods” discussion although we have definitely had a few discussions like that across the office, which people mostly seem to enjoy. The group discussions and distractions are seen as both good and bad for atmosphere depending on the topic at hand. Someone expressing joy about something goes down much better than someone expressing a dislike. Even something as small as a sigh can change the whole atmosphere! It’s easy to pick up the energy of people around you. This of course extends to bigger actions such as a loud yell or an exclamation of unhappiness.
People generally don’t turn off their senses while they work so things like smelly food also contribute to the atmosphere. Once again, taste is a contentious subject worldwide so in this case it is something that people in our office would rather avoid having to deal with especially when dirty dishes come into the conversation as mentioned next.
From messy desks and random junk littered about, to dirty floors and unaligned tables – the physical office plays a big role in atmosphere. About half the desks in our office are used as hot desks and the other half are used by regular office attendees. This causes some interesting issues. For example, people not taking ownership of their junk and mess which leaves others feeling irritated. On a weekly basis, dirty plates and glasses are left on desks, only to be cleaned up when the person who left the mess is next back in the office. Having no dedicated places for people to put their possessions means their belongings add to the clutter of desks and shelves.
Let’s have a look at what the future might look like for our office atmosphere.
During the creation of this blog I’ve found out many things people do and don’t like. I was also provided with some great ideas on other improvements that may help the office atmosphere. The first being a variety in seating and areas within the office, so everyone isn’t confined to having meetings and catch-ups at their desks or in the meeting room. This could look like a sofa, bean bags or a group stand-up table.
A common theme in many of the above points was tidiness, which brings me to the next suggestion of making the room feel more polished and cohesive. This would involve removing all the random junk from the office, fixing up the ugly cement floor and ceiling. Completing these changes would make the whole experience feel like a tailored custom environment that people are excited to attend every day.
Without introducing change into the office, you’ll never know what benefit you can get from it. To break it down we have the following main points that people like and what we can look to improve in our office atmosphere.
- Other People
- Open plan/Desk Layout
- Fun and Games
- Snacks and Drinks
- Office wide discussions
- Natural light
- Roof space
- Desk layout
- Not enough space
- Air conditioner sound and efficiency
- Negative actions/sounds
- Office aesthetic
- Out of tune singing
- 8/14 people like to have pets and more specifically Finley in the office. (The other 6 didn’t comment either way)
- The office is fairly divided on the desk layout and the music
- Everyone hates the air conditioner
- Most people mentioned their like for the plants
This was an awesome exercise for us to highlight exactly what people think of our atmosphere, what we can double down on and what we should focus on to improve.
Hopefully there are some key takeaways for you and it may even be something you can investigate in your own office. Without atmosphere we may as well be working in a cardboard box!