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3 pillars of highly creative workplaces

Posted by Chad O'Connor  June 12, 2013 11:00 AM

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Have you ever walked into an office space and lost your breath? State-of-the-art chairs, reclaimed wood, intimate lighting and brushed steel fixtures are the latest trends in the modern office. While the design might win architectural awards, this beautiful office space will likely be for sale in a few years if it cannot sustain an ecosystem based on collaboration and innovation.

An office is an external expression of a company’s ethos and personality. Employees, customers and prospects attach significant – perhaps subliminal – associations with organizations based on the place they call home. Collaboration, creativity and innovation are key components of the modern workplace and an increasingly important recruitment tool for successful companies to attract top-tier talent. Given the nature and speed of business today, how can the workplace contribute positively to performance? There is no blueprint for creating innovative work environments but there are characteristics that can be emulated and adapted by every creative business.

Pillar #1: People Should Actually Work in the Office
Many associate the term ‘modern workplace’ with grand visions of an organization’s entire workforce leveraging video conferencing, mobile tools and high tech gadgetry to get the job done. This Jetsons-like dream will never be fully realized because it lacks a vital element of successful creative companies: in-person communication. Despite advancements in technology that empower employees to conduct work from anywhere at any time, person-to-person interactions continue to be the best way to drive innovation within a company. Creative companies should think of their offices as a mother ship where employees go to recharge their batteries and gain inspiration from colleagues. While some employees are more productive at home, long-term telecommuting has negative effects on creativity for employees.

Pillar #2: One Room Design Does Not Rule Them All
Close your eyes and picture a conference room that regularly hosts brainstorming sessions. What does it look like? I’ll bet it has a long table that seats six to ten people with a phone in the middle, somewhat uncomfortable chairs with wheels on the bottom, a TV screen, writable surface at the head of the room and a few potted plants. It’s a fairly banal environment that does not evoke creative thinking.

Rather than having a single ideation space, creative companies need to create many collaboration spaces. That isn’t to say that these need to be expansive spaces. Rather, they just need to be locations where people feel comfortable getting together and working like a café, lounge or even a roof deck. Create disparate environments so employees can match the location’s function to the process they are currently working on. Creative organizations may find that great ideas flow more easily over a cup of coffee than in a more structured environment. Graphic facilitation is a key factor in these collaboration spaces as ‘Eureka!’ moments can strike at any time. Leave dry erase surfaces and markers in the kitchen, TVs in communal spaces and warm, natural light and boldly colored walls in a windowless room. All of these elements appeal to different personality types and can serve as the catalyst to productive collaboration.

Another key trend that innovative companies are embracing is the notion of making the workspace multi-task. File cabinets with erasable surfaces and movable walls that allow employees to change the dimensions of an idea room are examples of ways businesses can extend the usefulness of their current assets and do more with less space.

Pillar #3: Intentional Serendipity
This trait seems to be an oxymoron because it violates the very definition of the word ‘serendipity;’ however, many smart organizations are weighing the value of spontaneous collaboration when their offices are in the blueprint stage. Dozens, hundreds or even thousands of smart, talented people come to work each day and then work directly with a small fraction of that larger group. Executives are looking to bust through their talent silos by taking measures to ensure employees mingle and collaborate frequently, if unintentionally.

Urban legend has it that former Apple CEO Steve Jobs wanted the Cupertino headquarters to have one staircase within the entire building. This would necessitate co-workers from every department to rub shoulders and engage each other in some form or another. Discussions would be had, perspectives shared and insights gained all while walking a couple of flights of stairs. While this idea never came to fruition, the spirit of it remains the same: personal interactions drive innovation.

The more business evolves, the more things remain the same. People are – and will always be – the best competitive advantage for any company in any industry. Creative organizations need to not only attract talent but enable it to achieve greatness. Companies that reap the rewards of creativity and innovation enable their workforce through intentional and (to their knowledge) unintentional collaboration.

John Stephans is President of IdeaPaint, the leader and innovator in workplace collaboration technology via its unique dry erase paint that transforms any smooth surface into an erasable canvas.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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