An easy step to becoming a more effective digital team

Paul Boag

Many of the changes you need to make as a digital team are outside of your control. But there is one thing you can do; sort your working environment.

I spend a lot of my time working on-site with clients. That means a lot of time sitting alongside digital teams in their office environment. Most of them are shocking.

Working in-house can become a frustrating experience. There are many aspects of your work that are out of your control. You don’t always get to set the digital direction or even control your own workload. But one thing you can control is your work environment. And your work environment matters… a lot.

Why your working environment matters

Presuming you are at work, look around right now. What is your working environment like? Ask yourself two questions. Two questions that define why your working environment matters so much?

Is this place conducive to the kind of work we do?

I can walk into an office and know some of the problems that will exist with their approach to digital. How you may ask? Because they lack the wall space, whiteboards and tables for idea generation.

It is hard to work collaboratively on things like IA or prototyping without this kind of space. It is even harder to work in an agile way. You need space you can gather around and work on ideas.

You also need at least one empty desk. A place where business specialists can join you when you are working on their digital service. A place those internal clients can join your team. Because if they aren’t in the room they won’t feel ownership or become educated about digital best practice. This will damage the final result.

Does it project the right kind of image?

The number of times I have walked into a digital team’s office and feel like I have wandered onto the set of the IT Crowd. It is a mess of tangled cables, ‘boys toys’ and mouldy coffee cups. It screams IT department rather than a cutting edge digital team.

Many digital teams seem to work on the set of the IT Crowd!
Many digital teams seem to work on the set of the IT Crowd!

Yet these same teams complain that colleagues treat them like a service department. That they are not seen as digital leaders. If you want to be a centre of innovation or excellence then you need to look the part.

Improve your working environment with nothing but petty cash

But I know what you are thinking. We don’t have a budget to improve our office. Well, although a budget would help, there is a lot you can do at minimal expense.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Hide those cables. Cables make your office look a mess and reinforce the ‘techie’ image.
  • Remove anything that does not serve a practical purpose or that you haven't used in the last couple of months. Put it in storage if you can’t throw it away. But create a clean environment. Not only does it look more professional, it also makes more room for some of the following ideas.
  • Clear a collaboration area. Get rid of that cupboard full of stationary you never use and make use of the wall space. If there is no wall space, add a small desk or freestanding whiteboard.
  • Add a spare desk. If you can, squeeze in a small extra desk. It doesn’t need to be big. Just big enough for people from other departments to join you from time to time.
  • Display active projects on the wall. Showing what work is on the go is great for demonstrating to visitors you are busy. Its also useful to see at a glance. If you use something like Trello, consider hooking up an old PC to a wall mounted screen to show what you are working on.
  • Add personas to the wall. Take a page from Mailchimp’s book and turn your personas or empathy maps into attractive posters that you can put on the wall. They will impress visitors and keep you focused on user needs.
Turn empathy maps and personas into attractive posters that you can hang on the wall.
Turn empathy maps and personas into attractive posters that you can hang on the wall.
  • Keep walls and whiteboards clean. Although it is good to pin stuff to the wall and make use of whiteboards it can become messy if left there too long. Make sure you wipe down whiteboards often and remove work from the wall that is no longer in use.
  • Maximise natural light. If you have blinds take them down. If things block the light from windows, move them. If you worry about screen glare then move your monitors. A darkened room just screams IT department!
  • Paint the walls white. Finish off your new minimalistic office with a new lick of paint. Painting the walls white will make the room feel more airy, looks professional and is good for displaying work on.

Have a purge this week

Nothing I have said in this post is mind-blowing I know. The trouble is we never get around to it. There is never a good time. As a result we spend our time working in a sub-optimal environment that conveys all the wrong messages to colleagues.

So, clear your schedule for this Friday afternoon and see if you cannot make some improvements. I promise it will improve your work and how you are perceived internally.