Look around your office right now.

Does it look like something out of a Dilbert cartoon, with a sea of cubicles surrounded by offices filled with executives and a few windowless meeting rooms sprinkled in? Is it so quiet you can hear a pin drop?

If you answered yes to one or both of these questions, your office may be stifling your employees. "But Janine," you say. "This is how it's been done for years, and my team gets a lot done." I hear you and I get it, but allow yourself to imagine--even just for a moment--what your office could look and sound like if you made some changes.

My email marketing company, VerticalResponse, moved across town to some new digs just over two years ago. When we got into our space, we kind of fell into the setup of a bunch of cubes broken out by department. In just a few short weeks, we were already feeling the pain: The setup didn't reflect the busy, creative, customer-centric technology company we are. The marketing department went from being loud and bustling to feeling like a ghost town, it was so quiet. Something was not right. Sound familiar?

Tear Down the Walls and Play a Bit

We ended up talking to folks and giving them the option to have their cube walls taken down or lowered. A huge chunk of people took us up on it. When the walls came tumbling down, the collaboration went up. It's naturally easier to have conversations when there isn't some prefab wall sitting there blocking you.

We also wanted to give our teams an outlet to power down when they needed, so we created a game room with a massage chair, an old-school Pac-Man arcade game, Ping-Pong and foosball tables, a dart board, a PlayStation 3, and games such as Monopoly, Scrabble, and Yahtzee. The game room gives folks the opportunity to take a mental break, disconnect, and unwind, even if it's for just a few minutes. It also gives them a chance to connect with their co-workers in ways that wouldn't normally happen in a traditional work setting. I can't tell you how many games of Ping-Pong have gone down, but I can tell you that it has brought people together in a way we never imagined. I've even seen folks who are interviewing with us take on their potential hiring manager. Talk about a memorable way to end an interview.

Takeaway: Putting the fun in your space doesn't have to break the bank. We worked with our finance team to use the points we earned on our corporate credit cards toward games and other stuff. Though it might sound frivolous, creating an office environment your employees love can have a huge impact on morale and productivity.

Living Room Versus Meeting Room

Now that a few years have gone by, Leslie, our director of human resources, recently approached me with the idea of creating an area where people could go to meet or get work done away from their desk and have a change of scenery.

"I want to create some alternative workspace in the office to help support the diverse ways that people like to work and collaborate," said Leslie. "With the diverse group of individuals we have at VerticalResponse--something that I love about our company--I know that there isn't one specific way to be productive. So, if this space helps employees be more creative or productive, I'm all for it! I also really like creating space in the office where employees from different departments can interact and come together in a casual way."

Of course, I was game and gave her a big thumbs-up. She created a really cool area in an open section of our office that we have dubbed the VR Living Room. There are couches, coffee tables, chairs, and huge tables with benches at which people can have more casual, informal meetings or can go to get a bit of work done away from their desk.

In fact, I wrote this post sitting in one of those new comfy chairs. What has impressed me most is how much everyone has taken to the area. You can walk by any time of day and see a variety of folks from various departments all sitting together, working. And because of the proximity they have, they start talking. Our training and education manager, Jill, was working on some new tutorials to help our customers with a new product we'll be releasing soon. Jennifer, our director of product marketing, was sitting next to her, and they began talking. The conversation resulted in Jill finding a show-stopping bug, and she was able to communicate right then to the product team, which jumped right on it. Would that have happened if the two women were hunkered down in their cubicles on opposite sides of the building?

Takeaway: You don't have to be Google or Square and invest millions to make your office environment cool. We did it on the cheap and cheerful by hitting up our local Ikea and thinking about what our team would value the most. You can keep it simple and cool at the same time.

So take a look around your office again with a new set of eyes and think about how you might make some changes and how it could affect your business. Seems pretty worth it to me!

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Published on: Feb 3, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.