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GuidesEmployee experienceWork environments 101: Understanding the importance and impact

Work environments 101: Understanding the importance and impact

Last updated

1 May 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Warren Jonas ACC

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The physical, psychological, and social conditions under which people perform their jobs all make up the work environment. Over time, work environments have gone from rigid and hierarchical to more flexible, employee-centric models. This trend reflects the growing recognition of how the work environment impacts a company’s productivity, culture, and well-being.

Modern workplaces, in particular, have expanded their view of the work environment. Focus has shifted beyond the physical space to include aspects such as:

  • Work-life balance

  • Inclusivity

  • Opportunities for professional growth

This expansion has allowed companies to improve attraction and retention of talent, improve innovation, and drive business success.

At the same time, businesses recognize how important their employees are to their success, driving the desire to improve workplace environments. As a result, workplaces are continually assessing how to innovate and stay ahead of the competition in this area.

In this article, we'll discuss the elements that make up a workplace environment, the types of workplace environments, and how you can improve the environment in your business.

Importance of the work environment

We've known for a while that overworking employees leads to burnout and decreased productivity. It isn't just overwork that does this. All aspects of the work environment impact employee morale as well as the efficiency and quality of their work. To accomplish this, an ideal work environment aims to:

  • Reduce stress

  • Foster a sense of belonging

  • Promote physical and mental health

Happy and productive employees play a huge part in a company’s success. Not only will a positive work environment help to make current employees happy, thereby improving retention, but it will also help build a positive reputation for the company, strengthening the recruitment process. It provides the company with a benefit over competitors that have a reputation for being a less favorable workplace.

A positive workplace environment also improves the culture of a company. It reflects and reinforces the values that define the company, creating a cohesive identity that influences every aspect of its operations and interactions. A friendlier, lower-stress environment encourages collaboration, respect, and continuous improvement.

Elements of a work environment

Now we've seen the importance of a work environment, let’s look at some of the elements involved. In this section, you'll learn about the various factors to consider as you plan your workplace.

Size

The size of the workplace directly impacts how employees interact, collaborate, and perform their duties. A large space can accommodate more resources, departments, and amenities. All of these things can foster a sense of community and provide the tools needed for maximum productivity.

However, a space that's too large or poorly managed can create feelings of anonymity or disconnection among staff. The ideal space will be large enough to provide all necessary space and resources but small enough to enable team cohesion and communication.

Layout

The layout of a workplace plays a pivotal role in how well the company uses its size. Here, again, are trade-offs. An open floor plan encourages transparency and collaboration, ideal for teams that rely on frequent interaction. This same open floor plan might hinder concentration for employees working on tasks that require deep focus.

In these cases, cubicles or private offices can provide a quiet environment that helps facilitate focused work. Therefore, the best layout for a given department depends on the type of work performed.

Furnishings

The role of furnishing in a workplace is not only to make the area look attractive; it serves a more important purpose. How a workplace is furnished impacts the comfort and health of its employees.

Ergonomic chairs help to prevent strain and injuries so employees can sit for longer and be more productive. The choice of colors, materials, and designs impacts mood and energy levels.

Care should be taken to select furnishings that reflect the company's culture and values, and to make the workplace inviting and stimulating.

Equipment

Workplace equipment includes computers, software, and any specialized machinery required for the staff to do their jobs. For an ideal workplace environment, the equipment should be up-to-date and reliable. This will minimize downtime and frustration so employees can always perform at their best.

Staying at the forefront of technology also helps a company build a reputation for valuing innovation and being committed to remaining competitive. To make the most use of this equipment, training should be provided to ensure everyone is getting the most out of the tools.

Facilities

The facilities in an office contribute to how supported employees feel. These facilities may include break rooms, fitness centers, childcare services, and more. These are designed to address the personal and professional needs of employees.

By taking care of some of an employee's personal needs, the business is helping them to maintain that all-important work-life balance. As a result, employees will have less stress, be in better physical and mental condition, and have increased job satisfaction. All of these enhance the company's appeal as an employer and improve the productivity of its staff.

Location

We've all heard that location is everything in retail. Even outside of retail, it can be an important factor. Employees don't want to commute long distances any more than consumers want to drive long distances to purchase something.

A strategically located office will put employees closer to amenities and services in town, further aiding work-life balance. This makes it easier to have face-to-face business interactions with customers and vendors.

However, some types of work might be better suited to a quieter, more relaxed setting. Ultimately, picking the best location is about understanding your needs and finding the right balance.

In-person, remote, or hybrid

We’ve just seen how important location is for in-person employees, but the workplace is shifting in that area as well. Many employers now offer remote working opportunities. Bolstered by technology that makes remote work feasible and a desire to keep their employees happy, more and more businesses are providing the option.

Some businesses may even decide to operate fully remotely. Whether the business is fully remote, fully in-person, or a hybrid of the two is also a significant element of the work environment.

Types of work environment

Many of the ideal elements of a workplace environment are dependent on the type of work being done and the specific needs and nature of a company. To better understand how these factors relate to decisions around the workplace environment, let’s look at some of the different types of environments.

Realistic

These work environments are characterized by practical, hands-on activities. In other words, these are "real-world" workplaces with little focus on abstract concepts. They are typically found in fields such as:

  • Construction

  • Agriculture

  • Some areas of manufacturing and engineering

Realistic work environments prioritize functionality and safety, with a strong emphasis on equipment and spaces that support these goals. This includes clear guidelines and precautions to ensure a safe work environment.

Employees in these spaces are working towards clear, tangible results, often finding satisfaction in the direct application of their skills to solve problems or create products. As such, the layouts focus on efficiency, effectiveness, and safety.

Investigative

These types of work environments are found in areas where exploration and discovery are the defining characteristics of the job, such as:

  • Research

  • Science

  • Academia

Investigative workplaces are equipped with specialized instruments and facilities for analysis, experimentation, and critical thinking.

The layout may have laboratories, study spaces, or libraries so staff are empowered to research and experiment as required. The goal is to facilitate concentration and collaboration on complex problems.

Employees in these settings are driven by curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge, so need a workplace that supports these.

Artistic

An artistic work environment fosters creativity, self-expression, and innovation. These environments are found in industries such as:

  • Design

  • Media

  • The arts

They are flexible and dynamic environments, often featuring open spaces that encourage collaboration and creativity. 

Artistic work environments often feature inspiring and unconventional design; a reflection of the creative work performing within the space. These spaces need to support a variety of activities, from quiet areas for individual creation to large areas for collaboration. Again, flexibility is key in artistic workspaces.

Social

These environments are for industries where interaction, communication, and service are at the forefront. This includes fields such as:

  • Education

  • Healthcare

  • Hospitality

They are designed around the need for conversations and meetings. They have communal spaces that encourage teamwork and interaction with others.

Social workplaces are often made up mostly of larger areas, such as classrooms, meeting rooms, and other open areas that are welcoming and accessible. Employees in these spaces thrive on relationships and teamwork, valuing an environment that promotes community and empathy.

Enterprising

The enterprising workplace is designed to foster leadership, innovation, and decision-making, and is commonly found in sectors like:

  • Business

  • Sales

  • Management

Enterprising work environments have plenty of space for individual ambition, team collaboration, and client interactions. This typically involves a workplace with a mix of private offices for concentrated work alongside open areas for teamwork or networking and spaces designed to foster client trust.

An enterprising workplace will attract employees motivated by achievement and success. It will appeal to these employees' desires for adaptability and visionary leadership.

Conventional

Conventional workspaces are the stereotypical office environments. They're structured and orderly, and are the type of environment common in:

  • Administrative and clerical settings

  • Finance

  • Data management

The priority in a conventional workplace is efficiency and precision. The layout often features individual workstations or cubicles, designed to support focused independent work with minimal distractions.

Although not as forward-thinking as some workplaces, conventional environments attract employees who value consistency, detail-oriented work, and clarity in their tasks.

Tips for identifying the right work environment for you

As you look at the types of environments described in this article, some may stick out to you as being the perfect fit for your company. If not, you'll need to take some time to figure out which one works best.

Start by assessing the nature of work at your company. Is it creative, analytical, service-oriented, or task-based? This may make it clearer which style best fits your needs. Remember, it's okay for the same company to have different environments for different departments.

It's also important to keep company culture in mind. Although one type of environment might be common for a certain type of work, that doesn't mean it fits into every culture that does that work.

Pay attention to the types of employees each environment is suited to. If there's a mismatch that puts your employees into a different category than the type of work you do, a hybrid approach may be more suitable for your workplace.

Positive vs toxic work environments

A workplace environment can be positive or toxic. Understanding how to recognize each will help you better understand the impact your work environment has on employees. 

Positive work environment

A positive work environment has a culture of respect, inclusivity, and support. There is plenty of open communication and transparency, where feedback is encouraged and information flows freely. This helps to build trust among employees and management.

Employees who do a good job are recognized for their work, and everyone has the opportunity to learn and grow within the company. A positive work environment prioritizes work-life balance, offering flexibility to employees to accommodate their needs.

Toxic work environment

A toxic workplace is essentially the opposite of a positive one. These workplaces are filled with negativity and conflict. Trust is limited and communication is poor. This often creates a culture of secrecy and rumor-mongering that undermines the goals of the company and makes life miserable for its employees.

Employees are rarely recognized for their work and feel stuck in their current position, with no room for growth. Toxic workplaces have low morale, high turnover rates, and poor productivity.

How can you create a better workplace?

There are many ways you can make your workplace environment better for employees. Here are some small steps that don't require you to drastically change your current layout or company location.

  • Foster open communication: Encourage a culture where feedback is valued and information is freely shared. Regular meetings and open-door policies will help achieve this.

  • Promote work-life balance: Allow for flexible working hours, remote work options, and manage workload to support employees' personal lives and reduce burnout.

  • Encourage professional development: Provide training programs, workshops, and opportunities for career advancement to employees looking to move up in their careers.

  • Build a positive company culture: Work on building core values that promote inclusivity, teamwork, and respect. Ensure that all employees feel valued and respected.

  • Improve physical workspace: Work to create a comfortable, safe, and stimulating workplace. Invest in ergonomic furniture and create spaces that inspire creativity and collaboration.

  • Implement recognition programs: Recognize and reward employees for their achievements and contributions to motivate and build loyalty.

Understand your present and future goals: These tasks take a lot of time and need long contracts, so keep working on them to make sure your company keeps growing.

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