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Can workspace motivate to work?

A committed employee is one of the greatest values for an organisation, especially in the face of decreasing unemployment and increasingly fierce fight for specialists on the market.  Workspace is a non-obvious but an extremely effective motivating factor, which can facilitate the performance of day-to-day tasks.

Marta Badura, Senior Workplace Research & Consulting Specialist

When searching for ways to motivate our employees, we should think of our first day in a new job. At the beginning, we are usually full of vigour and new ideas. We think about the new things we will learn, the challenges we will face and the people we will meet. We await the first day in a new workplace with a mix of fear and curiosity. It just goes to show that for many of us the sense of intrinsic motivation is natural.

As time goes by and we gradually get the hang of the new job, our internal desire to act either remains at the same level or spirals down. This depends largely on the type of environment we find ourselves in. When it turns out that our ideas are not welcome, the executives prefer a system of micromanagement and the atmosphere is quite tense, we lose our initial zest. The perspective of an attractive benefit package and a higher salary, which earlier seemed to be a key factor, no longer plays a major role. Not that we would like to have them taken away – it’s just that they lose their power as an incentive.

Autonomy, relations and competence development

The impact of these elements on our commitment is corroborated by research on what really motivates people to work. The work of Dr. Edward Deci, pursued by hundreds of researchers in the framework of developing the self-determination theory, demonstrated that meeting three psychological needs – autonomy, competence and relatedness – significantly affects our motivation. The need for autonomy is associated with the knowledge that we have a choice and we are the source of our own actions. The need for relatedness is manifested in the desire to be part of something larger and to create bonds with other people. The need for competence is linked to the feeling that we are able to achieve the goals set before us. To sum up, we want to feel empowered and efficient, to build quality and lasting relationships with other people. The outcome of the research shows unambiguously that the satisfaction of these needs not only enhances the so-called self-motivation and well-being but also fosters our creativity.

These needs are not fulfilled in many workplaces, because companies often operate according to obsolete patterns. Over the years management was dominated by a system taken straight from the military. The command and control style, focused mainly on monitoring the employee, assumed that the boss knows better." The employees’ only task was to execute orders. This system triggered extrinsic motivation, which implied a desire to avoid punishment, and thus made it difficult to build a sense of efficiency, of having influence on our work. A relation between superiors and employees under this style of management was neither positive nor based on partnership.

Today, the effectiveness of employees no longer depends on the level of control.

Does control demotivate?

Over the years this system has been mitigated, but looking at the style of management in Polish companies and at training programmes offered to managers, we can see that control is still a vital part of managers’ work. That is the reason why Polish companies are so sceptical of remote work. When an employee is within their sight, managers have a false sense of control. They forget that nowadays you don’t have to stand up from your desk in order to stop working. After all, we are only a few clicks away from a virtual world, where we can shop online or gossip on a chat with friends – all that during our working hours. 

Technological development has rendered the old methods of work supervision obsolete. Certainly, we can boost control by introducing certain rules: keeping personal phones in lockers, blocking certain websites on the company’s net, or monitoring the number of mouse clicks per hour. But we should also ask ourselves: will it really improve the intrinsic motivation of the employees and, eventually, our financial outcome?

Such actions will not serve to create a sense of responsibility and commitment among people, and those two are key to business efficacy these days. Today’s companies need proactive employees, who are not afraid to put forward new solutions and take the responsibility for their implementation. In the context of research outcome, organisations and their leaders should focus primarily on how to create conditions enhancing self-motivation among employees, a working environment which will fulfill the three needs – autonomy, competence and relatedness.

If we look at office design as one of the key elements of work environment, we will notice that it is often created on the basis of the old-style management rules. Open spaces, where teams carry out their task under the watchful eye of managers, reflect the once-popular way of thinking – If I see my employees, I can control their actions. Work revolves around the desk; other types of space, which would allow employees to cooperate and work more flexibly, are limited to the necessary minimum.

Workspace motivates and supports

Contrary to popular belief, the best contemporary workspaces are not those filled with swings and slides, but those which enhance the need for autonomy, relatedness and competence among employees. Such workspaces are functional, adapted to employees’ individual styles of operation and aim to foster their efficacy. These are not offices filled with long rows of desks which leave little room for choice or effective work. So what are the main characteristics of such workspace?

The best contemporary offices support the need for autonomy, relativity and competence of employees.

A workspace which fosters building relationships:

  • provides space for casual talks and joint actions, without disrupting the work of others,
  • allows people to meet, both in formal and informal situations,
  • facilitates and generates meetings with people from different parts of the organisation,
  • helps employees create an internal networking system.

A workspace which fosters autonomy:

  • does not restrict employees,
  • gives you the freedom to choose the place and time of work,
  • allows you to personally define the most efficient place to work.

A workspace which fosters competence:

  • facilitates the implementation of tasks by matching the style of work of individual teams,
  • enables you to work efficiently, regardless of its nature of the task,
  • supports learning processes and the information exchange,
  • allows you to take full advantage of the knowledge and skills, providing space for work which requires focus and for work in a team.

Not only do people affect the space they function in but also vice versa. A well-designed office can effectively foster the management style focused on creating the sense of commitment and shared responsibility. Naturally, some employees will require constant monitoring, e.g. due to their short employment history. Still, one of the greatest advantages of the most competitive companies are committed employees – those who need support in the performance of their tasks rather than monitoring. With them in mind, we should create workspaces that will assist them in their work rather than ones which will give us a false of control over those who require it.

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