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Workspace Design

Reconsider Your Workspace

Research shows that different spaces facilitate different types of thinking. We break down how to navigate the workspace to stay focused and motivated.

Many companies place ‘creative stimuli’ like pool tables in their offices to inspire remarkable ideas, but what actually materializes as a result? Whether your office is made up of cubicles or open-plan architecture, your workspace should foster a culture of “productive creativity.”

You can learn a lot about a person from taking a look around their home. Since everything communicates, a brief glimpse at a bookcase is a lens for what your colleague finds interesting. Much like you can tell a lot about a person by looking around their home, you can understand a company’s culture from their workspace.

The typical office set-up of cubicles and fluorescent lamps reflects conformity, isolation, and a lack of individuality, where each employee is a mere cog on a wheel. Not surprisingly, remarkable ideas are seldom conceived in such settings. On the other hand, people assume that a fun-filled open-plan architecture is the answer to generate innovative ideas. With its emphasis on collaboration and fun, these workspaces reflect teamwork, collaboration and creativity for people to share and brainstorm new ideas. These companies believe that “bumping” into each other and engaging in an impromptu game of Rock Band is the catalyst for fresh ideas.

However, through some of our team’s research, we have discovered some liabilities with these collaborative spaces. As more value is placed on inspiration and less on structure and taking action, teams are liable to spend more time generating more ideas and less time on improving any particular ideas. We have found that ideas are less likely to gain traction when idea generation is never confined. Collaborative workspaces also encourage interruptions that can, in turn, produce distractions that reduce productivity. The “bumping” philosophy causes people to meet on the fly, rather than adequately prepare for a meeting. While open-plan architecture may facilitate raw creativity, this kind of environment does not necessarily foster the focus and accountability required to push ideas forward.

A workspace should be used NOT just to generate ideas, but also to make ideas happen. Since most great ideas are formulated in unstructured space, why not use time outside of the office for blue sky thinking…and then return to your workspace to take action? Here are some tips for turning your open collaborative space to a productive one.

  • Treat your colleagues as if they have an imaginary door.

    Limit the spur-of-the-moment meetings. Limit the number of times you interrupt people when they are in the middle of doing something to get quick feedback. Instead, schedule a time to allow for preparation and more thorough thoughts.

  • Wear headphones when you do not want to be interrupted.

    If you are focused and concentrated on getting something done, wear headphones to visually let people know that you do not want to be disturbed, even if you are not listening to music.

  • Implement the Action Method visually.

    Some of the most productive teams in the creative community put their action steps on the wall for the whole company to see. This promotes an emphasis for capturing the Actions Steps behind ideas and accountability for taking them.

  • Hold Action Meetings.

    Rather than holding a meeting to brainstorm new ideas, hold a meeting to determine Action Steps for each team member.

This tip was co-written by Michael Karnjanaprakorn and Scott Belsky, members of the Behance team.  Explore more tips, and check out Behance’s guest postings for small businesses trying to make ideas happen, hosted at American Express’ OpenForum.
Comments (3)
  • ThisAintNoDisco

    Great article guys and you raise a very interesting point about the liabilities of collaborative spaces. I believe this is very true and know of a couple of agencies where this has occurred in the past, resulting in almost restrictive measures in place. One revolving around a similar style meeting to the ‘action meetings’ you mention.<br />
    <br />
    There’s a fine line between freedom/play and productivity. Reaching that balance and creating an ideal productive work environment is obviously key. The suggestions you note below are great and I’ve actually seen a couple more in place at agencies that try to enforce these rules. One such example is where employees would place quirky signs on the back of their chairs displaying the status of their work mentality. Some that I remember are: ‘kinda busy, but up for random play’, ‘I’m at one with myself – do not disturb’, Looking for inspiration’ etc. <br />
    <br />
    A novel idea that retains the productivity to the maximum but still incorporates the fun factor.<br />
    <br />
    Cheers,<br />
    Ian<br />

  • adelap

    Mon buroâ?¦<br />

  • NickCrosby

    There is a lot of nourishment in your article. I would adapt the recipe, thus. Hold structured brainstorms outside a cubicle (meeting room, ‘creativity area etc…) Pay attention to beginning and end- i.e. prepare the agenda and agree the desired outcomes; and leave plenty of time at the end for the ‘Now What and Who does What’ part. i.e. the actions. Jumping to actions without getting ideas and perspectives out from colleagues can backfire.

  • Jeroneorgo

    fantastic document, As I clearly love this great site, maintain it


    Company set up

  • Blake Mitchell

    I suppose a fusion of the traditional and collaborative elements, both tangible and otherwise, can be beneficial both ways. Say, in a traditional cubicle set-up, the cubicles would be maintained, but in the spirit of freedom (as pushed for by collaborative spaces), the “office-ness” can be reduced through either a reorientation of the workspace furniture, or through other related aesthetic considerations. Alternately, a collaborative space can benefit from more organization and focus on the part of its workers.

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