10 Ways To Create a Winning Work Environment

Posted on / by Natalie Sisson / in Entrepreneurs / 7 comments

This is a guest post from Ruth Fearnley, a research student in educational theory at the University of Waikato New Zealand, that touches on a topic dear to my heart – the best working environment for you.

Recently I spent two and a half years in an open plan office. Lighting and temperature were effectively out of my control. Noise was a constant battle.

There were rules about eating at one’s desk and there were a total of about 6 plants spread amongst 90 people. Now I work from home and my work space is totally under my control and I’m still learning what to do with it.


A few years ago I came across a book by Karen Boyes called Creating an Effective Learning Environment.

While targeted at educators I have found the ideas very easy to switch from a classroom to an office, particularly, in my case, a home office.

Here are the best ways to make your home office environment much more enjoyable:

Firstly, consider that each sense plays a part in creating the perfect space. Often learning or working style resources discuss visual, auditory and kinaesthetic aspects but tend to overlook olfactory (smell – possibly the most powerful of all) and gustatory (taste) influences.

Look around your work space; do you actually like it? This is your chance to make your work environment totally work for you.

1. Colour your world

Colour is highly recommended and you may even find you respond to different colours for different tasks (pens, paper, font or background colour).

Maybe you can paint the walls or less drastic, put up some artwork. For something a little different pop a hand painted light bulb in a dimmer controlled lamp.

2. Light up your life

How much light do you want – can you move your desk closer or further away from the window? Should you close the curtain or turn on a light? Would a desk lamp be better than a ceiling one?

3. Make it natural

How about adding a plant or ioniser? Plants are great for providing more oxygen and generally making you feel more at ease.

Do you prefer a desk or couch or perhaps both so you can shift from one to another depending on your mood.

4. Give yourself space

Are you sharing the space with something else or does the space just feel too big? Consider partitions but know that they don’t have to be pin boards straight out of the open plan office – hang a quilt or put up a stylish room divider.

5. Tune into music

Would music help? Background music that is not karaoke. Baroque is often recommended as its tempo is similar to optimum resting heart rate. Or your favourite lounge jazz or artist that lifts your spirits.

However I like it quiet so the gentle noise of the fan (in summer) is plenty for me.

6. Get comfortable

Speaking of fans, get the temperature right early – if you don’t have central heating or aircon, plan ahead before you suddenly realise you are too hot or too cold.

7. Stimulate your senses

From music to the ears to scent for the nose. I have an oil burner as it lets me use different oils or oil combinations depending on what I’m doing (reading, writing, long, planned conference calls).

You may prefer one special smell like citrus to refresh you or lavender to calm you. If you don’t like the idea of an oil burner, consider perfume – yes, even if no-one else is going to smell you all day.

8. Use texture thoughtfully

Are you taking care of your hands? I bet they’re very active on the keyboard but how about something soft?

I have my graduation bear beside me – that gives me two different soft textures, fur and gown, and just a quick pat can revive a flagging thought.

9. Nourish your energy levels

And finally, plan for the munchies. Often this is less about hunger and more about the mouth. What does it want; salty, sweet, crunchy, chewy?

Identify the right craving and you probably won’t gobble as much before it’s satisfied. The beauty of working from home is you can snack on healthy meals every two hours and keep your energy levels high.

10. Hydrate your soul

Finally always, always have your trusty water bottle. Sipping away on water regularly gives you that extra clarity and boost you need to finish a project. Plus it’s good for you!

Note from Natalie: Share your tips for creating a winning working environment below.


  • Hi Ruth
    I like your ideas and find that a lot of them apply to my home studio concept. I work full time in an open-plan office but I also have a side business where I make jewellery, and the one most important thing I think you have missed is (animal) company. While I have a lot of different smaller things that I would adjust to my own needs, such as a comfortable chair and something mindless on TV to help me channel my thoughts in the right direction, I find the soothing company of my cats is the best thing. They also require planning for as they will otherwise sit on top of whatever project I have underway, so I have to make sure that I have various cat-friendly spots nearby for their convenience. People can often be a distraction, but cats have such a powerful sense of peace about them when they are resting that I get the most work done in their company, and that would be the best thing about being able to work from home full-time for me – more cat-time. I know that makes me sound like a crazy cat lady, but I think there is scentific proof of what I am saying – I just don’t know where to find it 😛

    • Natalie

      Great point Cat. I believe the book Ruth based her findings off was focussing on human sensory factors that improve a work environment.

      There was no mention of other people interrupting you (either by visiting or phoning) and how that can set you back 20-30 minutes on the task at hand.

      There was also no mention of having fresh air circulating which I think is hugely important (as is temperature).

      In fact there’s a lot more things that come to mind that can help you work more effectively and create a really enjoyable environment.

      Perhaps another post is in order.

      As for pets – I love their calming and soothing nature and they always improve my mood. There’s a reason why they bring animals into hospitals for patients to interact with – their ability to heal and lift your spirit is guaranteed.

  • Ruth

    Hi Cat
    Thanks for your comment! Company can be a tough one when working from home, be it too much or too little, either can break a flow of creativity and productivity. Finding a balance can be a real challenge. Cats, or one’s pet of choice, can be a wonderful addition to a work space as you describe and I too have a cat although it is definitely her decision if she wants to hang out with me while I’m working. I hope you get your dream of working from home full time!

  • Oh yes color is good. I like to use PURPLE writing pens when jotting down notes. I have adequate light, “i think”. Something to consider when working. Music, now that will be a distraction for me. I like to have the air on, brisk is good! I am thinking I should bring in a plant that flowers, but no i don’t think so. Graduation Bear? Hey when are your working? Blackberry and cashews are the best snack. I like to keep a glass of ice water. Yes. ice cold water.

  • Ruth

    Thanks for pointing out that clarification Natalie, the above post is strongly related to the book by Karen Boyes and certainly there are many more considerations that could be addressed to make an optimum work space.

    FashionistaChic, I’m not quite sure what you’re asking about “when” – if you’re referring to specific times of day for given tasks that’s a whole other kettle of fish! I tend to work fairly standard office hours as that’s what works for me, but Natalie often lets us know when she’s up at or before the crack of dawn brimming with ideas! I used to prefer working late into the night but that’s a little harder with my fiance’s film industry schedule of early to bed and early to rise, I don’t want to be completely out of sync with him.

    As for the graduation bear, yes it’s a little corny but it really is a stuffed toy that’s nice and soft which is a refreshing change from the keyboard.

    I love that you use a purple pen!

    From what you’ve written, we need quite different working spaces – I like it warm with quite dim lighting, at least at this time of year.

    So many implications for office design when hiring employees!

  • Carolyn Baldridge

    Awesome post, thanks Natalie

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