Creative Office - demolish your meeting and training rooms

In Deloitte's Amsterdam office, employees given the freedom to furnish one room on every floor filled most of the rooms with foosball tables and other games. Bringing pets to work is also a growing trend.

Everyone has seen photos of Google and other technology companies' creative offices with their saunas, aquariums, ping pong tables and the like, which until recently were difficult to associate with an office, but are now often the norm. Why? Has the world gone mad, or is this a fundamental and substantial change that we’ve been able to observe for some time now?

The software company Citrix predicts that by 2020, 70% of employees will be working outside of the office for at least half of their working time, be it at home or in a coworking space. Incidentally, the latter is estimated to grow by 22% annually, and many such spaces will emerge in the coming years. Creative offices, their design and environment are increasingly seen as weapons in a war for talent, say technology companies – but it will have to be one heck of an office for people to want to work for you and do their best.

Steven Johnson (see his famous TED talk here), an author researching how innovation and breakthrough ideas occur, highlighted in his TED talk that such ideas almost never arise when working quietly in your office or lab: they emerge when meeting with other people. When Steve Jobs visualised the new office building for both Apple and Pixar, he envisaged rooms that would create a ‘smoking room effect’. They would be areas where people casually met and talked. Demolishing the obsolete functions of yesterday's offices and creating casual meeting spaces that take into account new ways of working is a formula for future success.

But what does it really mean, and how do you create such conditions?

First of all, take a look at your office's meeting, training and break rooms. Yes, all of them. Do they make you feel good? What about others? Or are they conservative and monofunctional and more made for a group of people to work in individually? Is there a big conference table in the middle of the room so that people are at a safe distance from each other? Of course no one thinks about these things when furnishing a room, but this is how it often goes. And people know it, because room is an organisation’s body language – it sends out a message about how people work, behave and express themselves in that space. Subconsciously.

If you’re looking for a more creative environment, more ambitious ideas and more innovative business, start thinking about these rooms as meeting points – places where ideas come together. Naturally you’ll continue to hold your meetings and training events there, but if you really want to make your ideas fly, make these rooms multifunctional and create a different environment. The room and its design are powerful vehicles for launching – or for that matter sinking – cooperation and innovation. Ask yourself and your colleagues which of the two the current interior of those rooms fosters. Starting tomorrow, would people go there for a break?

Ideally, these rooms should be:

  • comfortable and pleasant – easily accessible, with nice furniture (sofas, cushions and bean bags are appropriate, for example) and an informal environment. When redecorating, think more along the lines of home and less about the office. How can you create the same pleasant atmosphere in these rooms so that people feel good being there?
  • multifunctional – how quickly can you repurpose a room for different types of events? Sometimes you need a table; sometimes you don't. Maybe younger colleagues will opt to sit on cushions or simply on the floor. Rule 1: every piece of furniture should have wheels. Rule 2: every piece of furniture should have at least two functions.
  • well designed in terms of sound and noise – hearing laughter and chit-chat in a room where people are working on new ideas is inevitable. If it's too close to areas where people are trying to concentrate on their work, the experiment will peter out before it profits you.
  • scribble-friendly – think about where participants can jot down the results of group discussions, sketch drafts of initial ideas or simply make notes. The more options the better. Notebooks and copy paper are not the solution, since visualisation is a way of actively thinking. Therefore the writing has to be visible to everyone so ideas can be bounced around.
  • of a sufficient size – 10-12 people should fit comfortably in the space. At the same time, there should be enough rooms so that there’s no time limit because someone’s waiting outside the door.
  • well lit and aired – ideally it should be possible to make use of daylight and lamps with different levels of intensity. This creates mood. It's hard to imagine a worse place for developing ideas than a room that gets stuffy from all the breathing.
  • active places – people shouldn’t get too comfy in their comfy chairs because when the body slows down, so does the mind. A recent study from Stanford proved that people's creativity rises by 60% when they take a walk, so people should be encouraged to stand up once in a while and find a new place. And the furniture should allow this.
  • dynamic and growing – don't look at new rooms as a final, complete achievement, but as an instrument and a means for getting people thinking and exchanging views. These rooms should continue to grow according to what you notice and learn and how the team members change.

The main thing is: don't forget to include the people who’ll be working in the rooms. A study has shown that if a person can shape a room using pictures and plants they like, their satisfaction with their work and their productivity will go up by 17%. Even greater freedom can increase productivity by as much as 32%.

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