3 Simple Ways to Improve Your Workplace Today

Transforming your office environment and culture doesn't have to be complicated. You can take small steps every day that add up to major strides.

Every business leader worth their salt cares about improving the workplace environment and culture for their employees. The benefits of an engaged, active, happy, and efficient workforce are myriad—to the people, the organization, and often to the customers or products as well.

But what if you don’t have time or resources to create a detailed, months-long improvement plan? It’s important to approach culture deliberately, but that doesn’t mean that it has to rest solely on the HR department, or that you can’t implement small changes that could make a real impact.

Here are three things you can do, today, to improve your workplace.

1. Leave at 5 o’clock.

Zillow Group’s headquarters in Seattle

Long hours do not always correlate with better work. In fact, most managers are well aware of the Parkinson’s Law problem—work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

Dan Spaulding, head of people and culture at Zillow Group, sets the tone for the company and its expectations of employees by encouraging everyone to leave at 5:00 p.m.—if not sooner. Employees are expected to produce quality work, and its value isn’t judged on how many hours went into it.

Specifically, Spaulding says, knowing that everyone will be leaving at 5:00 p.m. drives people to discover more efficient, simple solutions. Meetings are only scheduled for as long as they’re needed. And no one wants to waste time during the day because they’re not rewarded for staying late to make up for lost productivity.

Respecting employees’ time is one of the ways that Zillow Group maintains a dynamic and engaged culture and allows people to do their best work, Spaulding says. “None of us in leadership dictate culture,” he says. “We create the conditions for employees to dictate culture in the way they show up for each other and our customers.”

2. Move the recycling bin.

Investing in a thoughtful, deliberate office design will improve any workspace, but implementing a full redesign takes time and budget you may not have today. What you can do is take a page out of Matt Beliveau’s book and make some small changes that will have a major impact over time.

As the chief human resources officer at Morton Salt, Beliveau works to ensure that the company’s updated Chicago headquarters supports employee engagement and physical activity, which has been shown to improve employee health and productivity.

One of Beliveau’s methods to increase collaboration, health, and happiness of his staff is to situate printers, trash cans, and recycling bins at strategic places around the open-plan office, to force as many people as possible to get up from their desks and walk to them. Not only does this create more face-time opportunities for employees who might otherwise be staring at a computer screen all day, but it also increases everyone’s physical activity.

“We didn’t want people to feel chained to their workstations,” Beliveau explains. “By having printers and trash cans scattered around, you’re either more physically active or you’re reducing the amount of paper and waste. We’ve been able to measure that our employees are nearly 10 percent more physically active on a daily basis compared to our old office.”

Whatever your office’s version of the recycling bin is, try moving it to a different location that will force people to get up from their seats more often. Use that one small change as a conversation starter, and ask people what else you might change in the office to help people be more active.

3. Ask one person what they’d change.

Ideas for what to improve at your workplace shouldn’t come only from the leadership team. Often, the best ideas are generated by the people doing the work day in and day out. One thing you can do right now is simply ask an employee what they’d change–and then listen to the answer.

Listening doesn’t mean you’ll implement every idea you hear, but people should feel that their voice matters. Diane Adams, former chief human resources officer at McGraw-Hill Education, transformed the culture there, and listening forums were one way she was able to make a meaningful impact.

“In the listening forums, we do nothing other than say, ‘What is working well for you in this culture, what do you want to keep, and what would you like for us to change or improve?’” she says. Then, she brings the results to her CEO once a quarter, and they determine opportunities and potential changes.

You can set up systems to hear feedback from employees, but don’t forget the power of simple tools at your disposal—stop by someone’s desk and ask what they think. If you do that every day, you’ll soon gather plenty of informal data to complement what you find from employee surveys or more formal avenues of feedback.


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