Best Working Environments for Devs: A Hierarchy of Needs | Hacker Noon

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@alex-thomasAlex Thomas

Alex is Co-Founder and Managing Director of Breakline – a UK reputable digital marketing agency.

Developing and coding are incredibly tough. There are hundreds upon thousands of lines of code, and a single error can leave you trawling to find what exactly went wrong and why. 

It’s hard enough trying to sort out every little issue while working to tight and sometimes unreasonable deadlines – without having to deal with distractions and disruptions in the office. 

A better work environment helps to dramatically increase productivity, and so I’ve compiled 12 Ways to Create the Best Work Environment for Developers.

Remove Distractions from the immediate space

Surrounded by technology, it is easier than ever to get distracted – especially in the workplace. Phones constantly buzzing with notifications, clutter on your desk, even the typing and talking of your colleagues is enough to break your concentration.

The easiest way to stop getting distracted is just to remove all distractions. This sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many people don’t realise how much they get distracted by the little things. 

Put your phone on Do Not Disturb, and then put it away. Even if its buzzing doesn’t affect you, it’ll affect someone else. It’s best to just lock it away while you’re working. If it’s something vitally important, whoever it is can always call your office. 

With regards to the sound made by other people, your best bet is to invest in some sound-cancelling headphones. These can be relatively expensive, but are incredibly effective at creating a personal bubble. 

If you find listening to music distracts you too much, you can always opt for white noise (there are many different types, so don’t be afraid to experiment), or just pure silence.

Communication is Key

Communication skills are potentially the most important things to develop when you manage other people. Open and clear communication with developers (or anyone really) is the best way to help them get something done. If someone doesn’t understand what they need to do for a project, how are they meant to do it? 

Only by talking and listening to them can you figure out how to resolve any issues they may be encountering. From a simple misunderstanding, to a task that is far more difficult than it seems, talking about whatever issues may arise is a brilliant way to find a previously unconceived answer. 

By talking through issues and offering assistance, you also show workers that they are appreciated. This goes a long way in improving their intrinsic motivation, because if a worker feels they’re cared about, they’re more likely to care about work as a result.

Provide Mental Stimulation

Whether it’s reading materials or other activities, everyone needs stimulation outside of what they have to do for work. Providing books in the break room, or encouraging people to bring in their own is a fantastic way to keep minds sharp, but also allow them to relax from the stresses of work. 

Nobody really wants to think about work (or anything related to work) during their free time. It can cause stress and anxiety, especially if there’s a deadline looming. This includes their lunch break. Offering interesting alternatives that continue to boost mental function is a subtle way of increasing the rate work gets done. 

Of course, you can’t force people to read – but if you suddenly include a bookshelf, you’ll be surprised at how many people decide to give it a go. People love new things, and constantly rotating the books gives them something interesting to talk about.

Understand the Hierarchy of Needs

In 1943, the psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a list of needs that workers needed in order to get work done effectively, while also providing them with the best mindset. This is the key to individual (and therefore social) success.

When mapped against Employee Engagement, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs looks like this:

  • Highly Engaged
  • Love to work and help
  • Inspire others to do well
  • A ‘high flyer’
  • Engaged
  • A vital part of the institution
  • Feel important at work
  • An achiever
  • Almost Engaged
  • Aware I’m a part of something bigger
  • Might leave if they’re tempted
  • Enjoy working, but wouldn’t tell people where they work
  • Not Engaged
  • Reading job ads
  • Poor working conditions
  • Don’t like their supervisor or team
  • Disengaged
  • Only here for the money
  • They’ll leave as soon as they can
  • Unsatisfied with their job

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs helps managers to understand where their workers are coming from and why they may not be as motivated as they should be. Working is not just about money, and most people work to get a sense of accomplishment or because they like to feel appreciated. 

By comparing how your developers behave against the hierarchy, you can understand where you’re falling down and how to rectify that. It’s important to remember that good workers are potentially the best resource that a company can have. 

Don’t make the mistake of undervaluing them.

Have a Space where Workers can ‘Switch-Off’

Google has an entire campus as its head office where employees can cook, play sports, eat healthily, relax and enjoy every aspect of working for their company. 

I am aware not many companies have the budget of Google, but lessons can be learned from them in promoting productivity and creative solutions to problems.

For example, you could try revamping the break room with beanbag chairs, relaxing music or even hang fun and interesting posters on the walls. You could even set-up a karaoke night on Fridays, to really improve how they subconsciously think of the workplace.

It’s up to you and your team how to fully design the space, but make it separate from work. A good work environment is one where you can have fun, but still get things done. Happier workers want to spend time at work, rather than looking for ways to avoid it.

With this sort of space, it helps to break the monotony of the daily grind, and can refresh the headspace of your workers so that they’re ready to come back and tackle any obstacles in their workload. 

Stand Around!

Sitting still is extremely harmful to our health, not to mention it can stifle creativity and problem-solving. This is especially important for developers because they need those critical thinking skills to find perfect solutions to complex problems. 

In order to battle the detrimental effects of sitting for prolonged periods of time, it may be a wise idea to get a standing desk. 

Standing desks allow the users to stand while working, which can alleviate various sitting pains, such as neck, shoulder, and back strain. They also have the additional benefit of boosting productivity. 

Standing for 3 hours per day, for 5 days a week, burns around 4kg of useless fat over the year.

UpDownDesk

Some people advise standing for the entire time you’re working, but I disagree with this. By alternating between both standing and sitting, you’re helping to keep both mind and body active. 

When your brain spends too much time doing one thing in one place, it can stagnate. Getting a change in perspective can make sure that you’re always reactivating your mind and continuing to look at things in a new light. 

It could be just the thing you need to keep working at the top of your game.

Have a Selection of Healthy Snacks

You’ve been in the office for a few hours now. Lunch was a while ago, and you’re starting to feel a little drained. You’d probably grab a bar of chocolate or a fizzy drink, right?

That’s a terrible idea.

They may taste great, but sugary snacks are one of the worst things you can have in the office. Ignoring the health effects for now, something with a high sugar content is not going to actually help get anything done in the long term. You’ll have a quick boost, burn the energy and quickly feel worse than you did before.

That’s a major productivity killer. So why do it to yourself? Especially considering that prolonged consumption increases the risks of tooth decay, diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes. Any sugars your body doesn’t burn, it turns into fat – making that new diet you were trying, absolutely pointless.

If you have plenty of healthy snacks on hand though? That slow release energy is going to keep you going for much longer. Your mind is going to feel better, and your body will certainly thank you too. 

The nutritional gain by eating more fruit helps to boost brain function, decreases your blood sugar levels, and increases your metabolism (which is perfect for helping the weight fall away).

It’s a no brainer, ditch the sweets and stock up on fruits.

Bring Plants into the Workspace

For a long time, humans have been connected to nature. It’s no surprise then, that studies have shown that bringing plants into work is accompanied by a host of positive effects. They may need a little attention, but the trade-off is definitely worth it.  

Some of the benefits of having plants in the office are:

  • Reduced Stress
  • Increased Productivity
  • Reduced Sickness Rates
  • Air Filtration
  • Reduced Noise Levels
  • Boosted Creativity

Even if your office doesn’t experience every one of these effects, it’s still a great idea to bring some greenery into work. Plants help people feel better, and promoting a positive mental attitude at work is never a bad thing. 

Personally, I’d recommend getting an Aloe Vera. It’s a hardy little plant that looks cute and doesn’t need much water. Perfect on a desk or window sill.

If you don’t have plants already, what are you waiting for?

Provide Short, Easy to meet Objectives

When people are confronted with a big task, it can seem very overwhelming. If you can, see what segments the project can be broken into – and then do it. This breakdown allows developers to tackle smaller tasks with ease, and that constant progress keeps their momentum going. 

It might not be the most orthodox of origins, but videogames operate in much the same way to keep players engaged. Rarely will you receive a long, vague quest without any additional steps along the way. It’d be dull, confusing and disengaging; so objectives are kept fun and achievable. 

If you design the workload the same way, you’re bound to see an increase in productivity as your devs are able to tick off countless tasks in a day and feel more accomplished for it. 

It has the benefit of boosting morale too. Who wouldn’t feel accomplished after speeding through their workload?

Let your Employees Say “No”

When you’re working in the office, people will inevitably disrupt your flow. They will ask for help with problems that seem urgent to them. They will ask questions. They will distract you, purely because they are distracted themselves. 

Let your employees know that they’re allowed to say no to helping others right away. Their time is valuable, both to them and the company. 

Is it more important to finish a lengthy bit of coding, or to break your concentration in order to help someone do something they could’ve figured out by themselves anyway?

By making sure everyone knows they’re allowed to say no to helping right at that moment, the rate at which work gets completed is going to increase dramatically. And those people that needed help, nine times out of ten they’ll have figured it out themselves anyway. 

Do the Most Important Tasks First

The vast majority of people do their best work during the morning. The mind feels refreshed after a decent rest, and is ready to start working. 

So why not take advantage of that? Get that one piece you’ve been dreading out of the way, and let a more tired mind deal with the easier stuff afterwards. I guarantee you’ll be able to get more done and feel better because of it. 

There’s no better feeling than finally getting a big project done and out of the way. Plus, you know that time hasn’t been wasted doing something trivial you could’ve left until later – while the more important deadline creeps ever closer.

Delegate the Time-Consuming Tasks

There are plenty of low-value tasks that just take up a lot of time. Simple tasks like data entry can be outsourced to save valuable time. 

There’s little point for someone to spend time copying information from one document to another, when they’ve got far more urgent things to be doing. It still needs to be done, but why not pass it down the chain – or even off to a freelancer?

This type of delegation can dramatically lighten the workload for yourself and others in the office, which gives everyone more time to be working on more important things. 

If you do decide to use freelancers, you may experience some extra costs to start with. Rest assured though, the boost in higher-priority productivity should more than make up for this. 

Do what Works for Your Team

All of these tips are just that, tips. You can try implementing one, three or all of them. Some will work better than others, so it’s a good idea to discuss it as a group and experiment with what does and doesn’t work. 

If you are interested in reading about which issues destroy developer productivity, here’s a handy article to help build a solid foundation.

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