Decades of research have shown that great creativity almost always occurs through collaboration and idea exchange between the members of a group, debunking the myth of the lone genius and the cult of the individual. Consequently, organizations have spent a long time designing collaborative spaces to get individuals to enter that mental state of heightened consciousness and focus that allows them to delve into their work fully, together.
In order to support one of the highest valued types of collaboration, brainstorming, office managers have a few tasks on their hands. The space must be properly sized and conveniently located, the ambience casual and sufficiently private, and the technology adaptable, reliable, and easy to use. Furthermore, the furnishings and amenities should encourage the exchange of information and stimulate fruitful interactions between co-workers. Here are some design considerations to help you create a space centered around collaboration that will inspire and motivate your employees.
Size and location matter, so choose wisely. First off, a piece of advice about location of collaborative spaces from Steelcase: “Consider that any space or affordance that’s more than 50 feet away from the workspace will typically not get used. Design meeting rooms, enclaves, project areas, etc., within close proximity of teams.” Second, the size should be direct proportional to the number of participants, collaboration style, activities performed, and length of time spent in the space. If you want to design a high-performance space for collaboration, make it larger enough to accommodate the entire team (five to six is the ideal number of people in a group, according to research) and small enough to remain private. Also, don’t hesitate to make this space more colorful, fun, and playful than the rest of the office; you want your workers to interact in new ways, so it stands to reason that their environment should stimulate them differently.
Don’t make it a ‘dead zone’. Having the right technology in place is an essential aspect in encouraging fruitful interactions. One of the brainstorm room’s main goals is to allow people to present ideas, and it must do so in a way that ensures equal access to information for everyone participating. Equipping the room with technology that supports people’s abilities to connect to the environment (through power outlets, Wi-Fi, etc.) and to each other (through whiteboards, chalkboards, ‘tackable’ surfaces, projectors, and other data-sharing devices) will shortly make the brainstorm room everyone’s favorite place to meet. Avoid losing time with technology problems by making sure the equipment is adaptable and simple to use and does not encumber interaction.
Shape a space that supports workers’ specific tasks. In this case, thinking strategically, exchanging ideas, and getting things done. The brainstorm room should be a unique space where your team’s potential is unleashed, so there should be absolutely no barriers placed between co-workers aside from the tools and props incorporated into the brainstorming process. Clutter is another killer of motivation and creativity; when the space is in disarray, chances are your employees’ thoughts are also in disarray, and that’s the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve with a brainstorm room. Consider installing shelves and adding storage to keep all materials and tools when they aren’t in use. Also, to limit distractions and allow those in session to focus on their tasks, make sure there is good visual and acoustic shielding from the rest of the office.
Furnish the space to accommodate different moods and work styles. Brainstorming is usually a lengthy process, so it’s important to make the space comfortable for everyone in it. Versatile work surface systems and lightweight task chairs can maximize a small space and allow for multiple configurations. After a while, though, people may grow tired of sitting in the same position and may want to continue working in a more relaxed posture. Add a clean-lined sofa where people can lounge on with their laptop or tablet or simply clear their thoughts for a while. Since you are furnishing the space for people inside the organization, finishes shouldn’t necessarily be high-end, but they should still reinforce your corporate image.
Smart business leaders never underestimate the power of the environment in fueling workers’ creativity and innovation. Contact your local office space planner to help you set up the perfect environment that improves the way people work together and at the same time matches your organizational culture.
Lynne Lemieux, Founder and President of Alliance Interiors Inc., has devoted more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing growth opportunities for some of Canada's leading office furniture dealers. Her ability to provide clients with inspiring and versatile interior solutions for both business and home office environments has garnered her title of Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year in the city of Toronto for 2012. In her spare time, Lynne takes an active interest in politics, public speaking, and philanthropy, but also enjoys gardening, interior decorating, cooking, yoga, and traveling.