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Making Space for Collaboration & Creativity at Work

by Claire Parker, Staples® Contributing Writer

Take a look around your office. Does it inspire you to be a rock star? To high-five teammates on a project worthy of a viral YouTube video? Or are you cramped, distracted, uninspired and feeling like a lackluster extra from “The Office”?

Our workspaces often fall prey to overused design strategies: big conference table here, small cubicles over there and a tiny breakroom sandwiched in a corner somewhere. All that stifles creativity and collaboration — two things critical to business success.

An office redesign can help break those bad layout habits. With a little innovative thinking, you can create a workspace that encourages a fresh take on business collaboration and creativity. And you don’t need an extensive budget or a feng shui expert to achieve it, either (although don’t rule that out).

Think Fun

“Providing a good dose of fun in the office can do wonders for workplace morale and productivity, and encourage creativity,” says Drew Scott, co-host of HGTV’s “Property Brothers.” For example, replace traditional breakroom furniture with café-style pieces to add some whimsy to the décor.

The Carlsbad, CA–based software development company Processing Point did just that in its recent renovation. Playfulness was a priority for CEO Chad Buckmaster. His goal: “Make changes that engage and motivate employees, and help them strive and thrive.” Now, employees write ideas on windows or walls coated in whiteboard paint. And an arcade offers space for employees to blow off stress or have a laugh when collaborating.

Think Comfort

New office trends steer companies to consider how to enhance work habits. Bernard Brucha, founder of MASHStudios in Los Angeles, says investing in cohesive and well-built pieces is wise for the people using them all day, which is why he steers toward living room–type furniture rather than conventional office furniture.

“People are not chained to their desks anymore, so comfortable home-like stations promote collaboration,” Brucha says. Employees are more likely to convene in a comfortable “living room” — and they’ll stick with the task longer. Nobody wants to spend a minute more in a traditional conference room than absolutely necessary.

Brucha also favors privacy panels in individual workspaces to block noise but still provide quick collaboration via the “gopher effect” — communicating over the tops of your cubicle walls. “You can have a quick chat but have your privacy, too,” he adds.

These solutions create opportunities for easy banter and casual collaboration that fuels problem solving and is often lacking in traditional work environments.

Think Flexibility

“It’s always great to have flexibility to allow for both independent work as well as collaborative meetings,” says Jonathan Scott, the other half of the Property Brothers. For instance, align office desks so colleagues look at each other, use clear Plexiglas dividers instead of typical partitions to keep sightlines open, and provide innovative spaces to capture brainstorming ideas.

New York public relations director Kahshanna Evans, founder of Kissing Lions, puts a different spin on flexibility, creating a space to play both hostess and PR executive, which is imperative to her business. Her office redesign mixes boutique hotel and energizing office, outfitted with plush furniture, a desk that lowers to a coffee table by night, and an antique frame that disguises a flatscreen for presentations. “Creating, innovating, inspiring and motivating need to happen in a supportive atmosphere,” Evans says. “This space nurtures me.”

Think How Easy It Can Be

The Property Brothers offer these tips for an office design that promotes creativity and collaboration:

  • Don’t be afraid to make your workspace your own. We’re each inspired by different things. Reminding yourself of the things you love and the things/people that matter can only positively affect your work.
  • Do surround yourself with thought-provoking items. Think puzzles, books, magazines and people. Creating relevant work requires that we’re informed by the world around us, so don’t work in a vacuum.
  • Don’t limit your office space to one format. Provide spaces that support different types of work. Set up a quiet area for serious thinking, desks with a view to enourage clear thought, a large round table for collaboration and comfy lounge chairs for those long nights of brainstorming.
  • Do use a whiteboard. Create more opportunities to surface ideas without the conformity of an email or spreadsheet by using walls and special markers to extend brainstorming space. Interactive boards take this collaborative process even a step further. Allowing an open forum for all ideas big or small frees our minds from hesitation and makes room for creativity.

Think Beyond the Ordinary

Go beyond the standard prescribed layouts in your office design to avoid the ordinary and create an extraordinary environment where employees are happy, productive and ready to rock.

Claire Parker has a solid understanding of business from more than a decade of covering the business beat for award-winning national and local publications. She is also a veteran profile writer interviewing subjects from emerging artists to notable physicians. She lives in Wilmington, NC, and relishes Southern gardens, outdoor parties and anything to do with saltwater and sand. Follow her on Google+.

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