Q: Criteria for evaluating an effective work environment?

Q: What’s been your favorite work environment and why? What were some of the positives/negatives that stood out in each environment? How has COVID-19 changed your perspective?

A: I’ve worked in just about every environment imaginable—hacked-together startup offices, cubicles, multi-floor departments, unfinished basement office, bedroom office, separate office at home, remote downtown office, crowded coach class seat, Silicon Valley campus office, open floor layout, co-working space, etc. And we can add one more to notch to our collective workspace ledger: COVID-19 pandemic remote work under the most challenging conditions we’ve ever seen distributed work be done.

Office photos showing a desk, shelves, books, and various trinkets.
Cameron Moll LLC solo office in downtown Sarasota, Florida, in 2014

I’ve found that the most effective way to evaluate a work environment is after I’ve left. How much did it elevate my craft and overall well-being? What was the balance between utility and creativity? What factors do I miss? What factors did I not enjoy? By ‘factors’ I mean all of it—people, amenities, desk setup, easy access to support and equipment, food, proximity to other businesses and services, variety of workspace, etc. How much control did I have over all of these? How much control did I have over all of these? What was the sum benefit of inputs—physical, virtual, cultural, etc?

By looking backwards, I’ve found it helps inform decisions about my next work environment (including questions to ask during the interviewing process) and advises changes I can or need to make to my existing environment, whether individually or as a manager.

It remains to be seen what we’ll truly miss (and not miss) emerging from the COVID-19, but I suspect we’ll each have strong feelings about the pros and cons. The fate of on-site vs. remote work, async vs. sync is yet to be written.

Some of the positives that come to mind:

  • Healthy balance between isolation (quiet spaces, removed from distractions, non-meeting time, focus blocks, etc) and collaboration (access to peers, meeting spaces, whiteboards, virtual tools, etc). Said another way, balance between asynchronous work and synchronous work—more important than ever when much of our workday happens over Zoom.
  • Clear process for customizing my workspace whether a pre-allocated budget, approval process for purchases, or entirely my own choosing.
  • Messaging in any posters, artwork, or signs hanging throughout the workspace is genuine and challenges me to be a better person.
  • Easy access to food that aligns with my preferred diet whether at home, on-site options, nearby restaurants, etc.
  • Control over the temperature—thermostat, desk fan, etc.
  • Access to nature even if just a park nearby or my own backyard.
  • Family members and friends are welcome to visit me anytime and they feel comfortable doing so.
  • Above all, the most important factor for me is intangible: a sense of belonging, trust, and confidence endowed to me by peers and the leadership I report to. These will always be top priority in times of pandemonium or in times of plenty, with without them the most posh environments, world’s best food, and limitless company perks mean very little.

The negatives would be the opposite of these.