Can collaborative workspaces help creativity?

A study out this week (April 2014) by workplace specialists Ideapaint explores the workplace environment and the impact it has on productivity, creativity and innovation. I contributed to an article for the BBC recently on this subject and there’s lots of anecdotal evidence about the impact of environment on many different aspects of work. It’s interesting as the results chime with a lot of the research we’ve explored on the MA in creativity.

Several key themes that came out of the research:

  • Employees want collaborative workspaces – 54% saying it’s important or very important
  • 23% of people work in offices where there are only cublices or private offices
  • 33% want spaces that allow for more casual interaction and conversation

This last point is interesting as these spontaneous meetings are acknowledged as ways to encourage cross-team working and fertilise ideas. In what seems like a contradiction, there is a random element deliberately built into the very fabric of the Pixar building. Designed by Steve Jobs it was “…structured to maximize inadvertent encounters” says Pixar’s Ed Catmull. The kitchen, meeting rooms and loos were all arranged in the centre of the building to allow for chance meetings. As the report also reflects, “this allows for ideas to come to life whenever lightning strikes – encouraging growth and the results of shared knowledge and experiences throughout the organization.”
Companies need to be able to balance the privacy and quiet needed to focus with the need to collaborate. “Employers might look to create spaces that foster a greater sharing of knowledge and creativity, yet provide designated “quiet” spaces for deep thought.”

One idea we suggest when working with clients is that they create white or blackboards throughout their offices in communal spaces like the kitchen and post challenges or questions where everyone can see them, incubate the problem and contribute. This fosters cross-team working and can kick-start ideas from the blank page. Noise is a factor that needs consideration in opne-plan spaces – some people work well with background noise, in fact it helps with their problem-solving process – these people are often what would be described as extravert and enjoy being social as they do their work. More introspective types do not always appreciate noise and it can be a major distraction.

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