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Cutting-edge companies like Google and Pixar have been celebrated for their unconventional office spaces, which focus on fostering collaboration by bringing workers together in unplanned encounters—on strategically placed stairways, for instance, or over lunch or snacks in on-site cafeterias or snack bars.
“Physical space is the biggest lever to encourage collaboration,” Ben Waber, PhD, author of People Analytics, told The New York Times when asked about Google’s office space. “And the data are clear that the biggest driver of performance is serendipitous interaction. For this to happen, you also need to shape a community. It’s the antithesis of the old factory model, where people were just cogs in a machine.”
The benefits don’t have to lie with Googlers alone. Seventy percent of office workers and managers say that today’s employees are more productive than they were five years ago, according to a recent survey by Staples Advantage. Those gains are partly due to conveniences like mobile technology and telecommuting opportunities, but while in the office, workers’ productivity often depends on their environment.
Companies of all sizes are now finding ways to boost worker efficiency through their office design and décor. Here are five trends for successful workspaces and how you can incorporate their principles into your own workday.
1. Let the Sun In
The Concept: Recent research shows that when employees are exposed to more natural light, they work better and produce more successful results.
In Action: At Shutterstock, which recently opened new offices in New York’s Empire State Building, huge windows line the entire perimeter of the company’s space, and constant natural light has been an inspiration to employees. “Getting outdoors during the workday can recharge our batteries, but so can taking a moment to stand by the window, look out, and appreciate the beauty of the landscape,” says Danny Groner, manager of blogger partnerships and outreach at Shutterstock. “It’s a constant reminder of life beyond these walls. A desk inside a row of cubicles simply can’t rival that view.”
What You Can Do: Try to sit near a window that allows natural light to shine in as you work. If your office (or cubicle) doesn’t provide access to natural light, spend some time near windows in common areas so you can get exposure to natural light. Take breaks and go outside. When the weather is nice, consider working outside (if you’re a freelancer or telecommuting).
2. Incorporate Play
The Concept: For children, play is a primary method of learning and developing. For adults, taking time to be playful can inspire creativity and new ideas.
In Action: At Klick Health, a digital healthcare communications agency, workers can be active even during meetings, as boardroom chairs are equipped with stationary bicycle wheels and pedals. The space is also “filled with gadgets and gizmos that our team can go play with to find inspiration and help produce more creative solutions for our clients,” says Jay Goldman, managing director of Klick Health. “That injection of the unforeseen can help people step outside of their normal thought patterns and find entirely new ways of looking at a problem.”
What You Can Do: Incorporate the value of play into your work environment by finding new and interesting elements into your space, even if it just means filling a cabinet in your office with squishy toys or silly putty, Goldman says.
3. Add Variety
The Concept: The current trend is to create offices that are designed for easy collaboration and flexibility, while still providing workspaces that allow employees to quietly focus on individual work, says Sherry Gaumond, director of interior design at Larson & Darby Group, an architecture and engineering firm based in Rockford, IL. “One of the key factors in worker productivity is for companies to provide different types of workspaces to accommodate the varying needs of its employees,” she says.
In Action: Larson & Darby designed offices for Field Fastener, a distribution company in Machesney Park, IL, that accomplishes the goal of variety through its fireplace nook, “a warm and inviting area where planned and impromptu meetings can take place,” Gaumond says. “This area is used by employees who need to step away from their desks for quick, informal meetings and is also utilized as a lounge space where employees come together for free flowing interaction and brainstorming sessions.” As a separate meeting area, the setup allows “heads down” employees to continue their work without distraction and offers a less formal conference area where creativity can thrive, Gaumond says.
Field Fastener also offers one centralized eating space, which includes a pool table and a grill, and encourages the gathering of workers from various departments. Such common areas “are essential to productivity as they offer an opportunity to take a break, convene with others, recharge, and have a little fun,” Gaumond says.
What You Can Do: Examine your space and think about ways to provide variety. If you’re in management, maybe you could include both office chairs and bean bags in meeting rooms to provide different perspectives, as Klick Health does. Try to mix up your environments, rotating between your office or cubicle (e.g., a quiet workspace) and larger, shared spaces if they’re available.
4. Use White Space
The Concept: While certain paint colors have been shown to boost productivity for some workers, don’t underestimate the power of white space. Some office designers incorporate whiteboards on the walls and clear, uncluttered white surfaces such as tables and desks to ensure success. “A less cluttered environment helps employees manage stress,” says Megan Kent, director of marketing and communications at Washington, DC-based architecture and design firm Marshall Moya Design. “Having notes on the walls allows employees to stand up and interact with their work environment and transfer tasks and notes to their walls, then wipe them clean at the end of the day.”
In Action: Marshall Moya incorporated plenty of white space in the offices of inNuevo, a product design firm in Washington, DC. Workers use dry-erase board wall spaces to plan, brainstorm, and organize projects, Kent says. inNuevo’s quiet room offers employees a calming space with natural light and tranquil, blue walls to complete quiet work or make calls while relaxing on the couch. A clear, uncluttered white desk allows employees to spread out in their workspace with tasks when needed, but having filing cabinets and storage helps them organize and eliminate clutter.
What You Can Do: Focus on de-cluttering your workspace to boost productivity. Use filing cabinets, drawers, and other storage solutions to stay organized. Consider incorporating whiteboards on the walls to get you and your co-workers out of your seats and interacting with your environment and your ideas.
5. Open Up
The Concept: Growing numbers of employers are eliminating private offices and high-walled cubicles in favor of open offices that encourage collaboration. “Today’s workforce is more team-based, collaborative, and dependent on more social skills and technology,” says Nick Ybarra, architect at Shlemmer Algaze Associates in Culver City, CA. “Workers are no longer dependent on a stationary desk location but are more mobile. Office hierarchy has also changed as CEOs are embracing the open workspace for themselves.”
Ybarra says space is utilized wisely when creating the right context for concentration, learning, communication, and collaboration becomes the basis of productivity. “It simply means designing for flexibility to enable space to change as work groups, activities, and projects evolve,” he says.
In Action: Front Porch, a California nonprofit senior living and affordable housing provider, recently moved to an open-office environment with the help of Shlemmer Algaze. Gone are the doors that once kept executives isolated in private offices, and gone are the high cubicle walls that discouraged conversation and collaboration among workers.
The organization’s goal is to meet and anticipate emerging needs, and “the open, imaginative, and collaborative workspace will help us achieve the kind of disruptive innovation needed in our field of human serving,” says Mike Martinez, director of communication for Front Porch. “An open-office environment is part of that commitment, as it provides more ‘we’ space and more opportunities for collaboration.”
What You Can Do: Martinez recommends getting out of your own space as much as possible and engaging with co-workers and partners. “The results could be amazing,” he says.
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