When you walk through a business for the first time… what is the first thing you notice?
Maybe the way it feels, looks, or smells? Is it the how the receptionist greeted and offered to help you?
Is it the attitude and friendliness of staff?
Is it the degree to which your needs were met before you even had to ask?
Successful business owners know how important first impressions are to a potential buyer. Little things can have a major impact on a customer’s decision to invest in your services or products.
It’s easy to overlook certain aspects of the workplace environment that could be turning people away. In this article, you will find out the 5 elements that can turn your business environment into one that increases both your profit margins and customer satisfaction.
The 5 Elements of Workplace Surroundings
For a company to effectively serve customers, the owner must be aware of the conscious and subconscious factors that affect a customer’s experience.
Some of these are easy to evaluate and fix, like a burned-out light bulb or a slippery front entryway.
Other aspects of the workplace take some effort, either because the solution is difficult to implement or because our blind spots prevent us from realizing how dangerous they are. This could include seemingly innocuous but annoying things such as:
- scratchy fabric on the waiting room couch
- old and dated reading materials
- overwhelming scents, air fresheners, or perfumes
- flickering overhead lights
- a location that is difficult to find
- confusing outdoor signage
- an unfriendly initial greeting (in person or by phone)
- no place to put your coat
- not being offered something to drink.
In addition to impacting customer care, the workplace also has a huge impact on your staff. Since our occupation accounts for a large portion of our waking hours, it’s important to feel comfortable and energized where we work.
You don’t want employees to feel like this:
One study showed that frequent contact with nature during a work shift can contribute to lower stress, fewer health complaints, and a higher degree of employee well-being. (Source: Public Health Report. “Healthy Workplaces: The Effects of Nature Contact at Work on Employee Stress and Health”)
Consider the way in which you approach these aspects in your business:
- Appearance (how things look),
- Flexibility (how easily things can be adjusted and customized),
- Connection (the way in which people learn and interact),
- Nature (proximity and duration of natural materials), and
- Privacy (degree of freedom and shelter from activity).
Depending on how you design your company’s setting, each of these areas could be increasing your employee satisfaction and retention… or it could be negatively affecting your employees and customers.
Relatively simple changes like outdoor access, natural sunlight, and indoor plants can make a huge difference in the way a work environment feels.
The design of a workplace is a reflection of its owner’s values. An owner who believes in the importance of productivity but not appearance or comfort tends to create a workplace that is functional but utilitarian design. Someone who is focused on aesthetics and the customer’s physical experience might spend a lot more attention on physical surroundings, colors, and fabrics… but not spend as much time designing processes that flow efficiently.
The way you design these 5 aspects of workplace environment (Appearance, Flexibility, Connection, Nature, and Privacy) will have a direct impact on your company’s profit margins, productivity, and satisfaction rates.
While internal culture is a starting point for connecting with customers, the physical effects can also either draw them into a buying experience or turn them away.
(Read more: Understanding the Culture of a Company, Part 1: Surface Culture and Understanding the Culture of a Company, Part 2: Deeper Culture)
Many business owners find it really difficult to view their business through the eyes of staff, or through the eyes of a current or potential customer.
One way to get a sense of how your business looks and feels is to schedule a series of Employee For a Day experiences.
But if you want results even faster, evaluate how well your workplace does in these 5 areas. Look for ways to make the surroundings more appealing to employees and customers.
What Does “Perfect” Mean?
Try as we might, perfection is unattainable.
No matter how hard we try to create the right design, processes, and hire the right people, there is always the possibility for something to go wrong.
That’s because failure is a normal part of life. Mistakes are bound to happen.
While we can’t expect perfection, we also can’t be happy with mediocrity. The marketplace is ultra competitive, and slacking off with the quality of your sales process could mean losing a significant portion of your target customers.
Every owner wants their company operate with high efficiency and with the best communication possible. But how do we make sure this happens?
Millionaire investor Marcus Lemonis (famous for his CNBC show The Profit) says his secret to success is by using the People, Process, and Product approach. This happens when you hire the right people, have a process that is efficient and streamlined, and with a product that solves the customer’s problems.
(Source: Marcus Lemonis on CNBC)
Read more: 6 Versions of the 3 P’s as seen on CNBC’s “The Profit” with Marcus Lemonis
The end result is as close to a “perfect company” as you can get.
How to Achieve Perfection
Perfection doesn’t mean “free of any problems.” It simply refers to a state of constantly adjusting to achieve goals.
I believe there are 5 distinct things that make a company reach this level of near-perfection:
- It has all of the necessary components. [Product/Process]
- Stakeholders possess the skills, talents, and proficiency to succeed. [People/Proficiency]
- Leaders are continuously see and respond to the needs of staff and customers. [Process, especially Feedback Loops]
- The company operates with the fewest defects, flaws, impairments, and damage. [Process]
- The company is profitable and reaching its strategic goals. [Profit]
You can see all of these in the Strategic Growth Sphere, which is based on the Balanced Scorecard:
How to Use Good and Bad Pain in Decision-Making
What Happened When I Became an “Employee For a Day”
The 5 Components of a Perfect Workplace
I believe every company has the ability to create an environment that is 100% effective. Take a look at the five elements of an effective workplace, and consider how you might adjust to meet the needs, fears, and expectations of your Ideal Customer.
What we see includes more than what we observe visually; it can also involve what we experience subconsciously.
- How important is it for you and your staff to present a professional image? (Here’s how a color consult changed my mind)
- What first impression do you want your potential customers to experience?
- voice tone
- Are you using a standardized uniform, color, style, or office look?
- Do you allow staff to collaborate with you on picking design elements?
- clothing uniform
- name tags
- office space
- marketing materials
- Are employees encouraged to personalize their space and appearance, or do you require a standardized look?
A great workplace allows staff to adjust and customize processes and surroundings in order to get the best results.
- How flexible are the connections in your company? Are introverted staff required to participate in staff meetings, in-person events, and other environments that may be uncomfortable for them?
- Is your staff required to clock in and clock out for their shifts, or are they free to come and go as long as the work gets done?
- Do you offer authentic work-life balance?
- Doe you invite staff to use Participatory Job Design?
- What are the options for staff to relieve stress during their work day?
Each of us has a unique combination of Personality, Strengths, Intelligences, and Appreciation. We tend to interact with people in the way we prefer to be treated… which may not be ideal for them.
- Are you sensitive and accommodating to a variety of learning styles, appreciation methods, and communication preferences?
- How open are you to allowing and celebrating diverse cultural beliefs?
- What is the expected level of physical interaction? Which options are available as alternative communication methods?
- virtual messaging,
- What degree of aggression is acceptable in your work environment?
- For example: Loud voices, angry outbursts, and heated debates are quite customary in the East Coast of the US; but on the West Coast where I live now, this aggressiveness would feel out of place.
- Read more: Why Unconscious Aggression is So Hard to See as a Leader
- What is the volume level you expect in the work environment:
- muted and quiet, or
- active and lively?
You will be more efficient, feel calmer, and experience greater creativity if you breathe fresh air, see natural sunlight, and touch natural materials for the majority of each day.
- What kind of organic materials are in the workplace? (trees, plants, flowers, wood, grass, essential oils)
- Does the office environment have natural light?
- Is fresh air and pleasant scenery available? (parks, green space, outdoor patio)
- Is the office space designed to be comfortable and dynamic?
Nobody wants to feel imprisoned at work. If you allow staff the freedom to adjust their physical surroundings and activities, you will have greater engagement.
- Do you offer “open privacy” with unobstructed views, one-way transparency, and tasteful partitions between office areas?
- To what degree are employees trusted to be self-disciplined and independent? How much freedom do you allow your staff?
- Where can employees go to recharge and retreat? Do you offer “away rooms” and rest times?
- Have you created a balance of allowing staff to finish their tasks in solitude versus in a group?
So when is the right time to make your workplace more inviting and effective?
There’s no time like the present. Make a list of the changes you think would add value to your company. Then ask for input from your staff, leaders, and customers in a Reverse Interview style (where they get to ask YOU the questions).
You might consider experiencing how your company feels to employees by becoming an Employee For a Day.
If you’re really brave, consider offering full transparency with your staff and customers with a Pull Back the Curtains philosophy.
By taking the steps to consider how others feel and experience your business, you are increasing your level of Risk Intelligence… which will help you avoid potential threats and keep your company successful for years to come.
Interested in hearing how you can reverse a toxic workplace? Find out more here.
Grace LaConte is a business consultant, writer, workplace equity strategist, and the founder of LaConte Consulting. Her risk management tools are used around the globe, and she has successfully reversed toxic work environments for clients in the healthcare and non-profit fields. Grace specializes in lactation law compliance & policy development, reducing staff turnover after maternity leave, and creating a participatory work culture.
Find more at laconteconsulting.com, or connect with her on Instagram and Twitter @lacontestrategy.