Figuring Out Your Ideal Work Environment

employees working in an open-concept office
man working next to a window during sunset

What is Your Ideal Work Environment?

When figuring out your dream career or starting a job hunt, it’s important to consider your ideal work environment. Whether or not your preferences are met can determine your happiness and success. Consider how much more productive you’ll be if you’re comfortable in your position. A poor work environment can lead to low engagement, burn-out, and resignation.

Indeed, you probably won’t find many businesses that match every one of your wants. Your desired WFH job may have a culture in which you can’t thrive. Or you may be willing to settle for a hybrid position if it offers high pay and great benefits. It’s vital to figure out what you need vs. what you want. Don’t cut out opportunities just because they’re not perfect, but don’t settle for something that leaves you miserable.

In the end, work is work. Nothing will change that. But that fact doesn’t mean you should dread getting ready. Instead, make sure you know your ideal work environment. Below, we will go over some of the factors you should consider.

Steps to Figure Out Your Ideal Work Environment

If you have prior work experience, you likely know what does and doesn’t work for you. However, it can be difficult to figure things out when you’re just starting. Additionally, if you’ve never found a job that meets your needs, you may not be sure what makes up your ideal work environment.

Some people have never been happy at a job and think that it may be something wrong with them. Realistically, your past positions may not have been the best fit. The issue may go deeper than the job environment. The field itself may not be right for you.

We’ve put together five factors you should consider in your job search.

an office building lit up at night

1. Consider the Location

When considering your ideal work environment, there are many factors to think about when it comes to location. Indeed, you may have already passed up on opportunities because they weren’t a realistic commute. No one wants to spend two hours on the highway each way during commuter traffic. That’s a minimum of twenty hours of driving each week!

Notably, more goes into the ideal location than just distance.

Is the Area Safe?

So, you found a great job with a wonderful staff. Everything is going well in the interview process until you reach the office and find a neighborhood straight out of a gritty crime documentary.

Researching the area an office is located is a must when applying for jobs. If you don’t feel safe walking to and from your car or the bus, just going to work can be a scary experience. Some individuals can handle it or don’t mind making it work. However, this can be a dealbreaker for many. Don’t be afraid to turn an offer down or pull your application if you don’t feel safe. Peace of mind is worth a lot in the long run.

Is the Commute Safe?

On the topic of safety, what about your commute? Indeed, some roadways are more dangerous than others. They may run through questionable areas or be known for accidents and bad traffic. Consider the portion of highway in Cleveland, Ohio, nicknamed Dead Man’s Curve.

An unsafe commute leads to the same stress as an unsafe worksite, whether it’s dangerous traffic or just a generally bad area. Again, don’t add unnecessary stress to your life if you know it’ll affect your well-being.

Do I Want to Commute At All?

Today, many employees want full work-from-home careers. Some companies offer hybrid positions that can be acceptable for workers. However, some individuals won’t even consider jobs that force them to go into the office.

These positions are still available if you know where to look. If working from home is a must, not just a bonus, ensure your needs are clear when applying. Some businesses will make exceptions, even if it’s not listed on the website. On the other hand, watch out for predatory hiring practices. Job postings will claim remote capability, only for hiring managers to say it’s not an option.

2. Management, Teams, and Communication

Next, you need to consider your preferences for your day-to-day duties. Namely, do you want to work in a more team-oriented or independent position? Some don’t mind having frequent meetings, check-ins, and team projects. Others just want to do their work and clock out. Basically, you need to decide how closely you want to work with others.

There are plenty of positions out there on both ends of the spectrum. Similarly, you will likely be able to find jobs in-between that meet just a couple of times each week. Even management positions have different levels of interaction and oversight with the employees on their team. You don’t have to micromanage to run a business. Ultimately, don’t knock out any specific roles you have in mind until you get to know a company. The flexibility may surprise you.

This factor may seem small to some. After all, many of us have gone to meetings only to think, “this could have been an email.” However, micromanagement and an abundance of meetings can be frustrating and detrimental to productivity in any workplace.

If a company spends countless hours discussing projects instead of doing them, it will lead to extended deadlines and a lack of progress. In the end, that may require overtime or added labor on already frustrated workers. Communication and management styles can make or break a team or business. Consider the following quote by Marcus Buckingham: “People leave managers, not companies.” The data truly backs this claim up – 82% of workers say they leave due to the behavior of management.

Overall, you need to consider the management style you prefer. Do you want someone involved, or do you feel strongly that you can complete your job with minimal oversight?

people working in a coffee shop; bird's eye view through the window

3. Company Culture

A company’s culture refers to its beliefs and values. Notably, it will include their mission statement, leadership, and structure. For example, is there a clear hierarchy in the business, or can new employees casually walk into the CEO’s office to chat at any time?

It can be easy to spot when your values don’t mesh with company culture. The vision or mission statement is often posted online, or hiring managers will tell you outright during the hiring process. Also, you can learn a lot through research. Always look into reviews from past employees before applying. However, sometimes you have to get hired to determine how the business runs.

Nowadays, you can read about how to identify red flags and concerning statements businesses make about their culture. However, a company doesn’t necessarily need to be toxic to be the wrong fit.

Consider faith-based non-profits. These companies are a great fit for those who share the religion or values of leadership and the company. It probably won’t be a perfect fit for someone of a different faith or whose beliefs don’t match up. Similarly, if you have an open door policy but everyone else believes in closed doors, and productivity hours, you may feel frustrated in the position.

Every company benefits from diverse people and viewpoints, but you may feel less satisfied in the role if you feel left out. Furthermore, if a company is so set in its culture that differing views are stifled, chances are you stumbled into a toxic work environment.

4. Small vs. Large Business

The number of employees can play into your preferred work environment. There are pros and cons to working for big or small companies. For example, you may find it easier to stand out if you work for a smaller business. However, this also means you’ll have more responsibilities and less opportunity for growth.

Indeed, small companies are less likely to have defined departments or teams. While a large business may have dozens of people manning marketing, a smaller one may have only one or two employees. Or they may even use contractors. Thus, your desire for new duties or work may outgrow the company. On the other hand, your position may reach out into multiple departments. Then you can explore various fields and responsibilities, giving you ample opportunity to expand your skills and interests.

Big companies have similar pros and cons. You may feel that you have less agency and can’t explore. But you’ll likely get more benefits or higher pay as big businesses generally have more resources. Furthermore, there’s less confusion on who belongs to what department. If you need help on a project, it’ll be easier to figure out who can help. Additionally, small businesses will have an easier to identify culture, but usually, you’ll find more diversity in a larger company.

In the end, a quick online search can determine how many employees a business has. While there are benefits to either side, company culture can be great or horrendous regardless of size.

5. Benefits

Regarding what businesses can offer their employees, the availability of benefits is important to consider. Of course, healthcare and dental are among the most important things you receive through a job. But some companies offer more and greater options for their employees. Often, these will be reflected in the culture.

For example, some businesses offer to pay for employee gym and fitness memberships. Others will pay for gas for travel; not all jobs with travel requirements provide this benefit. Further, you may find companies that have frequent employee retreats and events. These offers aren’t for everyone, but they may be important for you to consider. Think about what you need your company to provide when applying for jobs.

Top considerations beyond healthcare include retirement, PTO, and childcare. Additionally, you may want to ask if an employer covers education if you’re going to pursue a degree while working for the company.

Indeed, if you’re between two job offers, benefits can be the make or break for your decision.

employees smiling and laughing at a table

How to Find Out if a Business Meets Your Needs

Once you have your list, you must ensure a business matches your needs. Some questions about culture, benefits, and others, may have to be asked in an interview. However, you probably don’t want to waste your and the company’s time only to find out it’s a bad fit. Thankfully you can find out a lot about businesses online these days. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look.

Below are a few suggestions on where to look to learn about a company.

1. Social Media and Press Releases

As a great deal of marketing happens on social media, it’s a great place to start your search. We recommend looking at all major websites, including LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Indeed, you should always check if they have accounts on YouTube, TikTok, and other platforms as well.

You will see marketing efforts, customer service responses, and general content creation there. You’ll quickly learn how much they value their image and consumers by how they interact in a publicly available space.

Additionally, press releases will give you an idea of what sort of work is happening at the company. You can also determine what type of content is considered newsworthy for staff. For example, are they promoting all the staff-related events they host, their community services updates, or just simple product and serve announcements? This content can serve as great insight into the company culture. Of course, not every company will advertise every event they hold for staff. It’s not a thorough look into what’s going on. But it does serve as a great starting point.

2. Company Website

On the same page as searching social media, look at what a company wants people to see online. Notably, you should look at these websites knowing that the company controls everything you read. They won’t post poor reviews from consumers or staff on the front page.

Instead, see what they value and what they’re showing to the public. Again, what are the trends you see? Look at the mission and values, history, and frequently asked questions.

Furthermore, if you do end up in the interview process, the company will likely expect you to have looked at the website. As you’re clicking through, take note of what you see and prepare questions in case you apply. If something is unclear, don’t be afraid to ask for clarity.  

3. Employee Reviews

There are a few websites online that allow employees to submit company reviews. These sites can be great tools when deciding if you want to apply. However, you should take overly positive and overly negative submissions with a grain of salt.

Bad, angry reviews could be legitimate or come from someone who got fired for valid reasons. Read through each post with an objective eye. Are they providing valid criticisms or lashing out with unsubstantiated buzzwords? Can a situation be easily read from a different point of view? Notably, you should consider a couple of specific factors:

  • Are all of the negative reviews coming from the same time period? – If yes, there are two likely options. First, the reviews are fake and come from the same individual or group. Second, management during that specific time frame needed improvement. If you don’t see any recent reviews saying the same thing, proceed cautiously, but pay more attention to newer submissions.
  • Does the language sound the same in each post? – Again, this will likely be the same individual or group trying to bring down ratings out of anger.
  • Do key issues repeat over time and submission? – This occurrence is a red flag. It’s unlikely that someone will return yearly to submit the same review. Seeing this content likely means there is an ongoing issue. Proceed with caution.

On the other hand, you need to watch out for overly positive reviews. These submissions will follow the same trends as above. When you see posts that say the same thing repeatedly, it was likely a PR attempt to stifle bad reviews. The business’s overall score will rise with fake good reviews, and prospective employees are more likely to trust them. In the end, these websites are valuable to provide insight into company culture – as long as you know what to watch out for.

typing on a laptop keyboard

4. Search Online

One of the best ways to find out if a company has been involved in any issues or scandals is to plug the name into your preferred browser. You may find additional reviews, forums that mention the business, or news articles. Overall, whether the company is big or small, you should find out their reputation and if they’ve made the news for anything.

In addition, we recommend looking at similar companies to see how they compare. The position you want to apply for may sound great on paper, but a similar business may pay a lot more locally. If that’s the case, you should find out why. Is their goal to save money by paying less? Or are they simply a smaller business that can’t afford the same salary yet? Either way, never accept less money than you deserve. Keep an eye out for shady business trends.

5. Ask a Current or Former Employee

Finally, if you can, try asking the people currently working there – preferably off the clock. We recommend engaging with the proper employees via LinkedIn to stay professional. If they accept your connection, message specifically referencing the job posting. Tell them how you found them and ask if they can answer some questions about the company. However, remember that they do not owe you their time. Respect whatever answer they may provide.

While talking to someone at work may seem convenient, you should consider two things. One, they may be unable to be honest with you with other employees and managers nearby. Two, it may leave staff with a bad taste in their mouth. They could get in trouble for talking to someone for so long. Additionally, they may not have enough time to finish their work.

Overall, it’s rude to hold people in a conversation when they cannot leave without getting in trouble. You can always ask if it would be okay to talk about applying, but we don’t recommend starting a conversation unprompted.

Final Thoughts

A good work environment is important for job security and satisfaction. Indeed, if you don’t like the company culture or management style, you probably won’t stay on for long.

You don’t have to love your job to be successful or happy. But you should like working there. Make sure you know who you’re applying to and that the company is a good fit. You can learn a lot about the work environment through researching online and by speaking to current or former employees.