17 October, 2016
A lot of people have heard of ‘creative’ workplaces, such as Pixar and Google, that boast exciting work environments for collaboration that stimulate their employees. With common cafe areas and unique styled furniture, these offices are unique to the company that created it. These places are known for not only their quirky work area, but for the collaborative team environments that come from them and the happiness it evokes in employees.
With the Google base in Auckland inspired by a picnic area in a local park, and the TradeMe building in Wellington boasting slides, pool tables and kegs, a lot of people think that these ‘exciting’ installments are distracting and have no use to employees. Yet what a lot of people don’t recognise, is that the space in which you collaborate, helps you innovate.
How does the physical workplace affect ideas and collaboration?
In a recent study by Knoll, they stated that there has been a shift in the culture of collaboration, from workplaces holding business meetings in conference rooms to having informal and social interactions that help employees collaborate with one another.
Two elements of collaboration have fundamentally changed, both from the perspective of employees, and their organizations. First, employees increasingly desire social connection and engagement as part of their collaborative experience. Second, organizations need both operational excellence—and innovation—to succeed. Operational excellence is related to process efficiencies such as speed of group decision making.
When you think of business meetings, do you think of a plain table in a bland coloured room? These spaces are good for formal discussions, but they do not allow employees to relax and speak freely, which is needed to help them work together to think up solutions to company problems.
Colourful, decorated areas may seem like a distraction to employees, except it does the complete opposite - it causes them to see things in a different light. Creating an accessible, welcoming work space means innovation can occur as conversations seem less structured and as more social exchanges.
By doing this, you are allowing employees to open up to one another and to share their thoughts in an environment they feel comfortable in doing so. Encouraging collaboration does many things, but one of the main reasons is to better support business process.
Collaboration allows business to bring together the expertise of individuals and creates a team environment, in which they can work together to maintain company goals.
How can you achieve this in your own workplace?
To create a physical workplace that encourages ideas and collaboration, studies from Knoll show that there are 32 unique types of collaborative spaces being used in organisations today. Where some companies have kept different sized meeting rooms, others have added videoconferencing areas, cafe spaces, ‘brainstorming’ rooms and game rooms.
These places all include display technology, and have elements that allows employees to participate and generate ideas. Normally, this takes form in whiteboards, chalkboards, ‘writable’ walls, and lighting to influence creative thoughts. Though these may seem like basic concepts, a lot of people don’t understand the reasoning behind having these things available to staff.
Having a collaborative environment doesn’t mean just having groups of people working together at all times. It’s about creating a balance that allows staff to spend time together to be productive as well as providing private areas for employees when they need alone time.
This can be done by having different sized meeting rooms with desks and work tables, or having something like drawing curtains and allowing employees to rearrange furniture. Moving desks around is something that happens at IDEO https://designthinking.ideo.com/?p=928, where desk arrangements change in order to evoke ideas from new people around you.
A good book on this topic is called ‘Blueprint for Tomorrow,’ http://hepg.org/hep-home/books/blueprint-for-tomorrow which shows you simple and affordable ways in which you can transform the areas you have available to you.
People work well in rooms that have more natural light, with colour schemes helping add to the atmosphere of the place. This can vary from room to room as some areas could have softer colours for relaxation. Adding colours also opens up creative thinking, with people becoming inspired by what they see around them.
One of the best ways to enable collaboration is to allow employees to bat ideas off each other. These ideas are unique to each person though, and need to be captured in a meaningful way. Having writable surfaces allows more creativity as it makes ideas easy to capture and can evoke spontaneous discussions. Bouncing ideas and interacting with people allows innovation to thrive, and helps employees grow with the help of others.
A must read on collaborative environments and creativity that can be created within them can be seen through reading, ‘Make Space’ http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13387168-make-space
Having an area, such as the cafeteria at TradeMe, that people can gather on their breaks to chat informally is a good way to get ideas flowing between staff. Some of the best decisions come from being in a moment, and giving employees a space to mix with each other allows this to occur. This ties in with colour as well, with people wanting to visit these places when they need to get away or feel calm about their work.
The book 'The Third Teacher', is an example of how interactions and environments are critical in the way children learn. This can be applied to the way people have learnt to interact with one another from a young age.
Though these are recommendations on ways that you can improve your workspace, the most crucial part to remember is that it reflects your company and the values it holds. By making a change in the way your physical workspace appears, it changes the way employees interact and should be used to further company goals.
By allowing your company to go through this process, you are enabling innovation among employees and supporting collaboration in order for them to succeed.
Jenni Guzman is resident Idea curator and creator of Content at HunchBuzz - Making Ideas Easy since 2012.