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How to create a next generation office that inspires innovation?

Your work space is influencing the creative potential of your team or organisation


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Sara Coene

3 years ago | 6 min read

Your work space is influencing the creative potential of your team or organisation. Scientific research has proven this. If you want your team to be creative, then create an environment that reflects this.

The design of the space you work in is of course only one of the ways to support innovation, but it is one we should definitely not push aside. Next generation offices are designed to inspire and facilitate innovation within companies. They are places where people — from inside and outside the organisation — come together to come up with new solutions.

Places where cooperation, knowledge sharing, learning together and the building of social networks are the focus with the ultimate goal to solve complex and big issues. Next to that they are an essential part of the development of a culture in which creativity and entrepreneurship take a central role.

The design of space can be what makes that new and desired culture visible. Office designers evolve from the real estate business to a business in cultural change and communication.

If you want your team to be innovative, create an environment that reflects that value.

Communication is essential in innovation.

If you want to excel in innovation as a company, you have to be able to communicate well. Successful office design helps with that: it removes barriers and supports people in innovative working.

Offices differ regarding their creative potential. One office will generate more creativity then the other. Research shows that the following characteristics have a positive influence on that potential:

  • Colour and brightness: where blue, in combination with green stimulates tasks concerning idea generation, is red important for tasks that require a great level of detailing. Dimmed light strengthens the creation of ideas while strong light tends to stimulate analytical thinking.

Google office in Zurich.

  • Plants and windows: Plants in the office or the possibility to look at a natural environment helps to reduce stress and helps to recover from long meetings or demanding tasks; Being able to let go of your thoughts will improve your creativity. If you work in an urban environment or cannot look at nature, a stroll is a good alternative.

Selgas Cano Architecture in Spain

  • A well-positioned coffee corner: the coffee corner is the place where people meet. Offices are often accommodated with several small coffee machines to ensure people do not have to walk far. But that way you do not meet a lot of people. And just that is decisive for your creative potential: people and ideas who meet unexpectedly. Another reason why coffee corners stimulate creativity has to do with that ‘break’. Creativity thrives through incubation. An active break in which you stretch your legs to grab a coffee, helps your brain to process information and come to new insights. This of course also applies to kitchens and cafeterias. Steve Jobs, for example, build an enormous atrium in the Pixar offices with the aim to have people run into each other all the time: it is impossible not to run into each other there.

Atrium Head Office Pixar

  • Disorderly desks: clean desks and lean spaces have their value if it is all about efficiency and analytical work. But creativity is not stimulated by well-organised desks, where papers and stuff are hided that could give you a hint for a creative idea. Picking up a paper or photo accidentally can give that one spark that can help you to solve a complex issue.

Ideo office in San-Francisco

Balancing creativity and efficiency is one of the major challenges for organisations this decennium.

As you can see, the continuous act of balancing creativity and productivity is not simple at all. At the one hand you want people to do as much as possible in as little time as possible (so no distractions), on the other hand you want them to be as creative as possible in and about their job.

Because you do not want people to work so hard on your oil tanker that they have ample tile to look at the sea and do no see the speedboats passing left and right. And in the end make your job or organisation redundant.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for innovation, least of all about the design of office spaces. First of all, you need to have a clear view on what you want to achieve with your design: where and when do you want to stimulate creativity and where and when productivity? Once that is clear, you can start to experiment, square meter by square meter.

The learning office space

Adidas for example, has introduced the “My Arena” program. The office space of the future is designed and tested by employees in a test building called PITCH. Inside PITCH they test different designs and tools until they have found the design that fits their needs.

It’s all about flexible offices

Make sure that you can configure the space the way you want, to stimulate spontaneity and to ensure that different teams can use it. Make a mix of central spaces, where people work together, and quiet areas for in depth discussions and idea generation.

Don’t forget about the coffee corner or cafeteria where people mingle, talk and connect with other people and ideas. You want offices where employees can be creative and can work without being disturbed. Where there is space to be alone and where working together is easy.

What can you do as a manager?

Is your organisation not into this, and you want to start with this anyway? You can, by using these tips.

  • Make employees responsible for their own work space.

Give them the opportunity to shape their own environment with clear guidelines. Give them a budget if that is possible. Invest in some plants. No view on nature? Then ensure that they can go outside regularly. A walk in the park can do wonders.

  • Make the space around you inspiring.

Use colours, light and inspiring visuals. Post-its on the corner of every table, thick and colourful pencils, a flip over nearby, a wall to use for drawing, or where you can put up articles, photos, quotes and progression of projects. Let people design posters, with inspiring slogans, a habit that is part of the Facebook organisation and developed bottom-up. Or create a small Facebook wall, on which everybody can write or draw things.

Head office Facebook

  • Make sure that there is space to sit and reflect.

Allow people to work from home if that way they can concentrate better, ensure that the team is in contact sufficiently to trust each other, have open and informal conversations that are crucial for innovation. Do you work in open space? Then make sure that there are several corners and quiet areas where people can isolate themselves.

Head Office Washington Post

  • Ensure the availability of materials to experiment and do prototyping.

To start with: lego, carton, scissors, glue. If you don’t have budget, negotiate with your kids to use their toys, or read the book ‘Make Space’ by Scott Doorley & Scott Witthoft, with cheap solutions to make your workspace more creative.

At Ideo, a large American innovation- and design bureau, you enter one big playground: pots filled with pens and paperclips, toys and prototypes, racks filled with books about creativity and design. At Dropbox the central meeting room is permanently filled with Lego.

You don’t have space? Then develop a creative toolbox: a simple plastic box that you can take with you and fill it with the essentials for a brainstorm such as post-its, pens, tape, stickers etc.

  • Be the creative example

Do you have that corner office with view on the lake? Or an office so big that you get lost? Go and sit between your people and donate your office to innovation.

Make a creative space out of your office. But you do not need a corner office to give an example. Start with the following tips and apply them yourself. Regularly switch from workspace, use creative materials, build a prototype and organise a creative session.

Take care: you get used to it!

Whatever you do, you get used to it after a while. Some things will become part of your daily routine, others will not be used after a while and some will simply disappear.

It is like that inspiring slogan on the wall, that you simply stop to notice after a while. So make sure that designing the space becomes a continuous process, something organic and evolutionary, shaped by people that come and go. But keep it in sight and renew regularly. The creative potential of your team will be grateful.


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