Sunday, 26 August 2012


What makes a great work environment?

I've had a lot of time to think about this one over the years, mostly when working in cramped, overcrowded, smelly, noisy, unsafe or otherwise distasteful locales.

I always used to think it would be in a context of setting up my own team in a new office.  Now that I've gone Indie, that's still true, but it's a team of one.


The most critical element in the work environment is space.  You need enough space to have all your working equipment easily accessible.  I like to have everything already plugged in and ready to go, but switched off at the wall.  And don't forget to move around and stay active, so I've setup a typing station, a coffee station, a thinking station, a reading station, a print/scan/copy station, an audio recording station etc, etc,  each already prepared for a particular type of activity.

If you're a fan of John Cleese, you'll know that low ceilings encourage closed thinking modes, and high ceilings facilitate open thinking modes.  Factor that in the next time you book a meeting room for a brainstorming session (high ceiling) or triage session (low ceiling).


How many times have you heard, "It's done when it's done!"

For many creative tasks, you can estimate how long something will take, but not very accurately.  I find it useful to work in blocks of around ~2 hours. I pick a task I think will take an hour to do, and work on it, until it's done.  If there's still 2 hours left before the next planned disruption, I'll pick another ~1 hour task, and work on that.

It's crucial to finish every day with a win.  Ernest Hemmingway says it much better than I ever could:

"The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. "

Some employers believe in billing for hours worked, and still others believe in crunch.  If you're in a creative industry and you're being micro-managed like that, and want to have a career rather than a burn-out,  I strongly recommend considering your options.


The day doesn't stop when you walk out of your office.  You still need to get home (or to the gym, or to the pool, etc)  How much is that commute costing you in terms of money, time and stress?  Is the parking lot safe? Can you even find a park when you need to? Can you commute when it's raining/snowing without getting wet?

Working from home is great, but be sure to separate work from home with a doorway or even a staircase.

If you're forced to reuse equipment, then create separate user accounts, facebook accounts, email accounts etc, and be sure to log in and out every time you transition from home to work and vice versa.

If you're a real digital nomad, why not setup separate home and work environments on different USB sticks using portable apps?


There's a lot of literature about setting up your chair, desk, keyboard, monitor for comfort and usability.  It really does make a difference.  If you're still a skeptic (like I was up until recently), just try it for a week.  If you don't see an improvement, you can always go back to your old bad habits.

...And don't be shy, help out a neighbor.  If you see a colleague struggling with RSI, or squeezed in to the wrong sized chair, bring it up, maybe it's something you can help with.


Headphones are not enough.  You need a reasonably quiet, connected space.  We humans are social animals, so complete silence can be too isolating.  We need to feel connected with our colleagues, and with the wider environment too, but not distracted from the task at hand.

Oh, and a pet-peeve of mine, a place to take private phone calls.  I hate reciting credit card numbers in a hallway frequented by programmers with eidetic memories.

What else?

What makes your work environment great?  How could it be even better?

1 comment:

  1. You neglect to mention the part where you had to convince your wife that your office really needed to take up the entire 2nd story of our house and required its own private balcony and on-suite bathroom, complete with a no-kids zoning and wives by appointment only rule :/