From the cubicle to the open concept, there are numerous examples of designs that have been effective for some industries and teams, while being a stonewall distraction for others.
As technologies and trends change, so does the environment needed for optimal productivity. In our research, we learned quite a bit about what facilitates both creativity and innovation as a medium for getting things done. Here’s a little insight into what we’ve discovered:
Encouraging A Creative Space
No one likes a boring office.
Who doesn’t get shivers thinking about the dull, buzzing noise of the overhead lights draping over a sea of cubicles?
That’s the type of space that inspires nightmares amongst interior designers and desk workers alike. Not only does a poorly designed office lead to poor productivity, but it also drives down morale, leaving your team feeling drained. Instead, it’s smart to take a cue from what some of the happiest and most innovative companies are focusing on: harboring creativity.
In 2015, FastCompany did a deep dive into the office culture of Facebook, Ideo, and Virgin Airlines. The commonality in their office design was a sense of creativity. From inspiring murals to designated spaces, every detail aimed to foster an environment that lets people flow in their own way. The other key to fostering this environment was looking at how employees can contribute to the office as both individuals and in a group; for example, at Ideo, an employee printed off and organized other employees’ Instagram photos to put on a photo wall.
The article also notes the importance of food space, including why having meals together is such an important bonding process. Which brings us to our next point...
Meals Belong In The Kitchen
We get it. You’re busy. When you’re in the middle of doing a thousand different things, it seems like you’re bound to get more done if you just start chowing down on lunch without ever leaving your desk. However, as everyone has to eat, lunch can be a great opportunity to connect with your peers, which is why many companies are starting to encourage sharing it with one another.
According to an article by NPR, only one in five people step away from their desks for a midday lunch break. That means roughly 80 percent (!) of us are slurping soups, eating sandwiches, and picking at heated up leftovers next to our peers. The research they cite comes from a study by UC Davis, which also infers that people feel the most creative in a changing environment, especially one that’s closest to nature, which is why stepping away from our desk to eat someplace else can be such a good boost.
Granted, a contributing factor the article also noted was how the change in work schedules has altered when it’s appropriate to eat. With working hours becoming longer than the traditional 9 to 5, the point at which people take their breaks varies more, and many opt to spend their break on entertainment rather than meals. While this isn’t a bad thing, there is real value in teams spending quality time eating together, which is why many companies have started to encourage it.
One of the most famous examples is the Canadian real estate giant CBRE, who made headlines for banning employees from eating at their desks. The outcome was outstanding, with many employees realizing they weren’t actually giving their work full attention while eating, as well as finding that a change of scenery and seeing other people helped their creative process. Plus, it improved the cleanliness of the office; their teams realized that their desks were getting nasty from food gunk on keyboards and screens (...gross).
Giving Employees The Opportunity To Be Productive
While having spaces to be creative and enjoy meals does improve employee performance, the most important thing is creating a space that increases productivity. For the longest time, we’ve often considered the ‘open office’ concept to be the optimal choice. It gives people the ability to all sit down together and chat, and it gives senior leadership the ability to have eyes on their team at all times. However, data has suggested a strictly open office space isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The open office concept can actually be a pretty isolating experience. In a study published by Harvard Business Review, a professor and student tracked two Fortune500 companies as they switched from cubicles to an open office; the results found a 70 percent reduction in face-to-face interactions, with electronic interactions increasing as a result (such as Slack messaging and emails). Another study by BosparPR published by Ragan reported that people disliked open offices for a number of reasons, including:
- A lack of privacy (43 percent)
- Overhearing too many personal conversations (34 percent)
- Inability to concentrate (29 percent)
- Worries that sensitive information can be leaked (23 percent)
- Can’t do their best thinking (21 percent)
Being open seems to be too much, which prompts the question: what’s the best balance?
In the study presented by Harvard Business Review, one successful design method was strategically separating teams. Teams that worked together on the same floor were six times more likely to interact together, while people on different teams were nine times more likely to interact with each other from different floors; furthermore, 10 percent of interactions occurred between employees whose desks were more than 500 meters apart. What the research they compiled suggests is that you both have to give people space to work, as well as move around. Creating an environment where employees can work alone but also move in-between spaces is the best balance, because it lends a sense of specific intention to the space.
Designing a productive space ultimately comes down to understanding how your employees take cues from their surroundings. It should reflect both the office culture you want to cultivate, the reality of what your employees want and need the space to be. It’s vital to leave room for improvement as well; as technology advances, you must be mindful of how different technologies and productivity tools can improve our relationship with our workspace over time.