Three Work Space Lies We’re Told About Creativity

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Synopsis

Do the collaborative office spaces actually encourage collaboration or is this thinking backward?

It seems to never end. The promises of this or that office widget that will finally get your organization to make the jump from a stagnant entity into a creative powerhouse. And office furniture is no exception. 

Just last month I had the opportunity to tour a brand new state-of-the-art office of a media company. The tour began next to the employee coffee cafe, and wound around a giant open floor plan, a “mission control” area with flat screens everywhere, and numerous nooks and employee collaboration areas — several things are worth noting for those of your considering a space change of your own.

1. What’s a Collaboration Cushion?
Every desk in this open floor plan had a low cabinet or drawer unit with a brightly colored, padded square on top, which I discovered after asking my guide was a "collaboration cushion.” Upon clarification, he explained in further detail. “Basically, it’s a spot where someone can take a quick seat next to your desk, encouraging more collaboration.” After I asked if it worked, the answer is one I’ve come to expect over the last several years. “Well, not exactly. Most people just put their backpack or purse on it. Even if they leave it clear, people just pull up a chair if they want to chat.” 

2. Nooks and private space
As we continued, I noticed the open floor plan was actually a little... too open. “Where is everyone?” a friend of mine who was with me asked to my surprise. Wanting an answer to that very question, but not being bold enough to ask it myself, I anticipated the answer with great interest. “Some are working remotely or in a meeting.” But he left off one other place they were all hiding. Further meandering around this incredible office space, yielded the answer. I began to notice that indeed many people were still there, but just not at their desks. Every private work space (with a closing door) was occupied. Every. Single One. It seems like many had trouble in this open floor plan and had retreated to a private respite so they could get work done.

3. Collaboration Spaces
We went past numerous collaboration spaces on our tour as well. Beautiful furniture, space rugs, and even floor lamps seemed to be perfectly nestled into various spaces, that divided up the space neatly. They certainly looked cozy, but after passing five of these spaces, I started to notice a trend. They were all empty. All the meetings or groupings of people were taking place in rooms with, you guessed it, closing doors.

These three things are commonly thought to encourage collaboration, creativity and positive work activity in the workplace, but weren't actually being used at all, or at least not for the intended purpose.

While it’s not a bad thing this company had put these things in place, it seems many do so for the wrong reasons. The various story pitches I get on a frequent basis from furniture system companies highlight those reasons. From cubicle manufacturers to white board makers they all promise to help you “create a space that will nurture and foster creativity” and of course, that's tempting. Who doesn’t want that? But it doesn't work that way.

Yes, there are many perceived creative organizations that have this same kind of office space, layout or features. But a space is just a space. While it may be able to give a pre-existing creative culture a tiny temporary boost, it doesn’t put that culture in place.

In the same way a carbon frame bike won’t win you the Tour de France, real creative cultures come from healthy habits, hard work on your body of workers, and nutritious attitudes. Workspaces that hold creative teams are designed in response to the people in them, not to change them.

Tags: cooperation, creativity in business, justin brady, office, workplace culture

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