Thoughts On The Ideal Workplace, Part 1 | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Thoughts On The Ideal Workplace, Part 1

I’ve written a lot on how to get more done and find enjoyment in what you do, and people sometimes ask me how a company or organization can apply the ideas I talk about.  I want to start a conversation about that in this post.  I’ll begin with a list of some features of my ideal workplace — basically, what the typical office environment would look like if I had my druthers.

1. People Feel Free To Make Requests. Employees often shy away from asking for what they want — whether it’s a raise, a day off, a change in their responsibilities, or something else — because they fear being seen as needy and demanding.  Sometimes, this fear is justified — some employers may indeed prefer workers who “don’t complain.”  Unfortunately, this can have employees feel resentful because their needs aren’t being met.

Similarly, I’ve noticed that managers sometimes have trouble making requests from subordinates because they don’t want to look tyrannical.  But then, because employees don’t know what’s expected of them, managers end up being the ones feeling resentful.  “Why don’t my reports have common sense?” they complain — meaning “why can’t they guess what I want?”

I’ve noticed that these situations often come up because people don’t feel completely free to refuse a request.  They learned — perhaps early in life — to see a request as a veiled command.  So, naturally, when someone asks them for something, they feel oppressed — or, if they’re the one doing the asking, they assume the other person will feel imposed upon.  When people learn to see a request for what it is, answering calmly and deliberately gets easier.

2. People Breathe Fully. I’ve noticed in my work that people in office settings often fall into an unconscious pattern of shallow breathing.  When we restrict our breathing, it’s no wonder we get anxious and experience our work as stressful.  In my ideal workplace, people would periodically check in with their breathing, and relax any places where they’re tensing up their bodies and preventing the free flow of oxygen.

3. People Can Be Emotionally Open. This will probably be the most controversial item, but I think it would be wonderful to see a workplace where people felt free to be emotionally expressive.  If they felt like crying, they wouldn’t have to go hide in the bathroom to do it.  Perhaps there would be a punching bag in the back room to allow workers to vent frustrations — or, at least, it would be acceptable to get down on the floor in front of their desks and do some pushups.

Of course, to make this work, I think management would need to create some ground rules.  One would be that, if you’re in an area where people can hear you, you must avoid making a lot of noise, to ensure that others can concentrate.  Another would be that you must, as Pema Chodron puts it, “feel the feeling and drop the story” — you can be angry, for instance, but you can’t blame someone else for your anger.  “Yeah, I’m angry because you’re an idiot” wouldn’t be allowed.

I think one reason so many people see the office as stifling is that they feel obligated to put on a “work persona” on the job.  It’s not enough for them to do their tasks well — they need to look like they’re calm, happy, aggressive, or something else to succeed.  When people drop this facade, I’ve found, they’re actually more able to focus on their projects, because they don’t need to devote so much energy to maintaining their image.

How about you?  What would your ideal workplace look like?

9 thoughts on
Thoughts On The Ideal Workplace, Part 1

  1. Lance

    Hi Chris,
    I think a real key point you bring up is really this idea that a facade is sometimes “the norm”. And in that, we are not fully being ourselves. And if we are not – then are we really “being” the best us that there is? Probably not. When an organization offers a more open and communicative environment, this can at least start to blossom. I think there is a lot of trust that goes into that – and that trust has to be present within all levels of the organization. Moving toward that ideal workplace….great thoughts Chris!!

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  3. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Lance — I think that’s true — that people in an organization would have to trust each other a lot for these rules to work in practice. Maybe having this depth of communication would be a good incentive to get people involved in team-building exercises that everybody would otherwise be really grumpy about. And these could be team-building exercises that involved the kind of refreshing honesty I talk about in this post, as opposed to “okay, now everybody juggle” or something like that.

  4. Sara

    Chris — This one is easy for me as I work at home. I have lots of things around me that give off good energy — plants, pictures, an old love seat/couch. My muse, Izzy and her friends. In addition, I look out on a bird feeder, which gives endless delight and plenty of “present” moments…when I just stop and watch the birds eat:~)

    When I worked in an office it was a different story. It was a very unfriendly place, lots of tension that I couldn’t resolve. Shallow breathing was very common, as was anxiety and stress.

    I suppose you have to learn who you are to really understand the work you have to do and where you need to do. Thanks for this post:~)

  5. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Sara — I liked how you put that — that learning about who you are and what you want sometimes requires experimenting with different work situations — and so, everything that we’ve tried in the past, as difficult as it may have seemed at the time, has actually been a necessary step on the path to where we are.

  6. J.D. Meier

    These are great tests for success.

    I’m a fan of vulnerability-based trust … it’s the “who’s got your back test?” If you don’t think your manager or team has your back, you won’t go out on a limb … and you waste energy just worrying about finding your footing.

  7. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi J.D. — I think that’s a great point — I’ve also noticed that, if the relationship between a manager and their reports, or the members of a team in a company, has too much of an adversarial or competitive tone, the anxiety people feel around that can actually lessen their output. I think that was one of the reasons why I got more done working alone when I was in a corporate environment.

  8. Mark

    You have provided a great structure for the ideal workplace. I would add that there should be a “creativity room” where people could go to color or make a model out of clay or sit and daydream. One of the things we are missing in the workplace is the permission and opportunity to allow ourselves to be creative. Note, coming up with creative excuses as to why one needs to leave early does not count.


  9. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Mark — I like the creativity room idea — even if the creative activities don’t have to do specifically with people’s tasks at work, I keep reading literature saying that this sort of thing can stimulate the right brain.

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