New York City's never-ending winter has been a mental and physical punishment to everyone at my office. Eleventh Avenue has the best wind tunnel blast Manhattan has to offer, so if you were safe underground on the subway or jumping out of a taxi to pop into work and thought you could escape the elements, there is a constant arctic hurdle to set your mood for the day. The added stress of polar vortex commuting has worn me down, and by the looks on everyone at my workplace this winter fatigue is hanging over my office and affecting our synergy. A few weeks ago, I found myself waking up with excuses to call out sick so that I could escape this dreary world and hide. I desperately needed a reason to bring change to my environment and began to think of ways to cheer up the place so 2014 could be a year of fresh thoughts and momentum.
Our office is shared by roughly a dozen people, all with different national origins and opinions. This is a small enough team that everyone is impacted by each other and yet large enough that an overhaul needed to be agreed upon by all. I set off on a small campaign by slowly interjecting ideas for change at the break table. One by one, I would ask my coworkers what they liked about our office and what they would change if they could... everyone agreed the view is stunning of lower Manhattan and the Hudson River, so I used that as my base for change. We have south-facing windows with the blinds often down due to the glare on computer screens and coworkers that have their backs to our beautiful view all day. The first solution was to move all the desks perpendicular to the windows so not only would this alleviate glare but if someone needed a moment to day dream, they could easily glance to the side without interrupting anything else going on during their mini break. On a group level, this opened up the idea that enjoying a sunset was now a shared activity and something not to be taken for granted.
One of the blessings of our workspace is that we have an outside terrace on the 8th floor. This terrace has been home to fashion shows, parties and picnic lunches. As much as I love a party; my mind was challenged on doing something different this year, something healthy. Through a mutual friend, I have had a few yoga lessons with Ghylian Bell and always found her work to be so rewarding. Ghylian works with The Urban Yoga Foundation and she is always looking for ways to give back to her community through healthy initiatives. A few phone calls and texts later she had agreed to start a program on our terrace... the deal is that I provide the space and recruit the people and she provides her talent with a small donation going to the charity. We now have a program where our coworkers can benefit from practicing yoga before work but also in turn give back to the community through Ghylian's generosity.
Now that we have yoga mornings and sunset evenings, I needed to attack the middle of the day. We have a kitchen and break area in our office which provides an impromptu staff meeting every day, but how can we make that new and interesting? There was an area near the windows that was kind of a dead space that became a landing spot for rolling racks and boxes. Quick solution: We added a small table and chairs to create a mini lounge area. The simple effort to eat lunch in a new area with a different angle on our view could make our stagnate space feel fresh again. The setting is also sunnier than our break area so a dose of vitamin D during lunch might be just what the doctor ordered... not to mention it is kind of hysterical to see our coworkers wearing sunglasses during lunch. A side effect of all this wellness in the workplace has been that everyone is discussing what they are eating for lunch. People are sharing recipes and tips on healthy lunches and what they are doing to prepare for bathing suit weather when it arrives.
All this effort to make my workplace more enjoyable and inject some wellness may seem flaky or selfish (especially because the new mini lounge is next to my office) but the exercise to challenge a group of people to think differently about their environment has been an eye opener. I learned that people tend to resist change as a negative or possibly they lack the motivation to deviate from routine but if you pull back and take a look at what is available for no cost or what can be done as a leader for wellness in the workplace then the initiative can benefit the organization as a whole. A fresh approach to your workplace and coworkers might just provide you with a reason NOT to hit snooze alarm that second or third time.