It’s no secret that a visually stunning workplace design is a huge asset for winning business, wooing talent, and fostering the impression of success.
But how can the design support the kind of spontaneous collaboration that, in turn, inspires creativity?
1. Writable walls
Says tvsdesign’s Don Ricker, “Our most successful office designs feature writable walls in large open spaces where multiple people from diverse teams gather to exchange ideas and feedback. This fosters genuine collaboration along with a sense of play and fun, which in turn, opens the floodgates of creativity while serving as a potent morale booster.”
Writable surface walls have been in offices for more than a decade, but not necessarily in corridors or centralized spaces that provide casual connection points for employees to draw or write.
This is particularly true at the Reebok, where they use IdeaPaint to cover the entire wall space in a large communal area. Every Monday morning, the Reebok sports apparel designers use their idea wall to draw concepts for new designs, then invite their colleagues to give feedback on those designs or provide additional new ideas by writing them on the same wall.
By the end of the week, the apparel designers have a complete design ready for final approval because they got feedback and insight so efficiently on the same wall space.
2. Communal spaces
Another solution Ricker recommends is creating communal spaces where employees can gather — even if they are working silently — such as libraries, cafes, or lounges.
“Generation X and millennial workers don’t want to be shut off. They want to be in the same space as their colleagues – even if they have their headphones on while working on their tablets and laptops. These communal spaces give people a greater sense of comfort and connection with their employer, too.”
Office designs that drive serendipitous collaboration are the future of workspace design, according to a recent study from the Harvard Business School. While individual workspace is shrinking, more office space is being allocated for communal, collaborative areas.
The value of spontaneous interaction is not lost on one of the world’s most successful companies, Google, which has spent considerable time researching what makes workplaces innovative.
Google discovered that three factors define the most innovative companies: learning by interaction, collaboration, and fun.
The company embraced this ethos and realized tremendous gains in productivity in the process: Google close to $1 million annually for every single person it employs.
3. Multi-function furniture
Another key trend that innovative companies are embracing is the notion of making your workspace multi-functional for multi-tasking. This is particularly important as we become more conscious of how much space we use.
In multifunction workspaces, a file cabinet might double as a guest chair. Multiple teams might rotate in the same ideation space.
Ricker is also using more flexible height surfaces in the offices he designs. By putting high standing tables in open work spaces, copier rooms, or cafe and communal spaces, he maximizes space while encouraging shorter-yet-potent interactions between workers.
4. The “Five C’s”
According to Amanda Schneider of IdeaPaint, the most dynamic workspaces have the Five C’s: Comfort, Connectivity, Central location, Coffee, and CNN. She initially discovered this ethos from HOK.
- Comfortable spaces have soothing colors, plush furniture, and open spaces in a clean and fragrant environment – so much so that people actually want to go into the office.
- Communal spots positioned centrally where people pass builds trust among employees. Steve Jobs believed in the power of casual interactions and the spontaneous conversations and ideas that germinate from those encounters – and thus designed Apple headquarters accordingly.
- Connectivity is key so visitors and employees can immediately connect to their electronic and mobile devices on-the-fly without anxiety.
- Workers always want a good cup of coffee and a friend to talk to. That not only makes their work experience genuinely enjoyable but also facilitates casual conversations and quick idea exchanges that often turn into more effective collaboration than formal meetings.
- CNN on a TV nearby gives employees a connection to the real world so they don’t feel like they are suffocating in a cloistered office without a refresher break.
With the boom in telecommuting over the past six years, it’s been widely believed that the physical office space would go away. Yet today, we are finding the opposite to be true.
“Workers may be more productive at home, but they are more creative in the office,” Schneider said. “The office is where we go to be together. Being in one place builds teams much faster – and teams with higher trust levels have much higher rates of productivity than others.”