The water cooler moment has become a familiar phrase when describing something broadcast on television that everyone is talking about the next day.
The water cooler itself is a focal point for socialising and for building relationships at work. What this reflects is an office environment where employees feel comfortable with and engaged with each another and their surroundings.
This is one way that a water cooler adds value to an office environment. However, there are other advantages it brings, especially alongside various measures that can improve conditions in the workplace.
Why improve your office environment?
A happy employee is much more likely to be a productive employee, and if you keep your employees happy, you are also more likely to retain them.
A 2015 study on leadership conducted at the Swedish Karolinska Institute suggests that positive work cultures are more productive.
But there is more to creating a positive work culture than leadership. The physical environment plays its part. Sick building syndrome, for example, is a phenomenon linked to the design of buildings and the negative impacts of this on the health of occupants.
What then are the main measures for improving the office environment?
Layout and furniture
How people move around the office is vital to how comfortable they feel in it. A cramped, cluttered work area can feel too imposing or even claustrophobic.
On the other hand, totally open-plan office spaces with hot desks can make people feel too exposed, and affect their concentration.
One solution is to include office break out areas. These semi-informal shared spaces offer the opportunity for openness, but do not tie employees to it all the time.
Furniture is another critical element. Firstly, it must be suitably ergonomic, ensuring people can work comfortably with it and on it. Secondly, there is the space issue again. The design and layout of furniture should allow for suitable freedom of movement, and ensure that people can also evacuate a space safely and swiftly, should the need arise.
The Health and Safety Executive, HSE, offers advice on suitable office furniture.
Office lighting can affect productivity and wellbeing.
Ideally, you want to make the most of as much natural light as possible. Regular, bright light helps keep people happy, and can reduce anxiety and depression.
Where there is not sufficient window light, install enough blue-tinted bright lighting to ensure people can work productively.
Air quality and climate
Although air quality is not as noticeable as lighting, say, it can actually have more of an impact on productivity. Good air circulation, including air filters and ventilation, and exposure to outdoor air can all help improve indoor air quality.
The climate within an office environment is also important. If the temperature is too hot or too cold, it will soon affect employee’s concentration levels.
Obviously, there can be differences in individual preferences, but an overall, measured approach to office temperature control works best.
Greenery definitely helps create a better workplace for people. Wired magazine has reported that office plants can boost productivity and job satisfaction.
Plants can mean a productivity increase of up to 15 per cent. There are various theories for why this might be, including their natural appeal and oxygenating effect on their surrounding environment.
Why the water cooler is a winner
We have already mentioned how the water cooler provides a social hub for the office, but it also has other, direct benefits.
It keeps employees hydrated throughout the working day. Dehydration can affect concentration and even memory. Feeling hydrated and refreshed helps people feel properly prepared for work and fully focused.
In the hotter months, people in the workplace can be even more at risk from dehydration, so having a cool water supply on hand is vital.
The water cooler has a water filter system, which reduces the number of contaminates commonly occurring in water. Therefore, it also contributes to people’s health.
Drinking plenty of water aids digestion and improves metabolism. Having cool, refreshing drinking water on hand helps encourage people to drink more of it – health experts recommend around 2.5 litres a day.
Ultimately, the water cooler is a benefit that represents a long-term investment in your employees. This makes sense, because they are your most valuable asset.