HubSpot's 120,000-square-foot headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was once a furniture factory. The software firm's 785 employees do very different work, but when chief operating officer JD Sherman decided to redesign the space, he wanted to ensure that it encouraged creativity. Now the office includes a fireplace, restaurant-style booths, a communal workspace with standing desks and stools, and even a hammock room for napping. What doesn't it include? Offices--or even desks--for Sherman and HubSpot's CEO, Brian Halligan.

The executives prefer to work in the new common areas, where they can easily strike up conversations with employees. "It's been where some of our biggest inspiration happens," Sherman says, adding that the redesign encourages collaboration between workers who had previously never interacted: "Every time I walk through our kitchen, there are people from different departments chatting about what they're working on and how they might be able to best help each other." HubSpot (an Inc. Founders 40 company) must be doing something right: Annual revenue hit $115.9 million in 2014, up 49 percent from 2013. Such a setup wouldn't work for every company, of course--but there are all sorts of options if you want your office to encourage your employees to think more creatively.

Go Green (Literally)

Adding a bit of nature--whether it's a view of the outdoors, pots full of leafy plants, exposed wood beams, or art depicting natural scenes--can be restorative and help recharge the mind, says Sally Augustin, an environmental psychologist and owner of Chicago consulting firm Design With Science.

The color green in particular has been scientifically shown to boost creative thoughts and can put people in relaxed moods. Blue has long been considered calming, while red has been linked to analytical thinking. Augustin also advises clients to find an office with windows that open or offer a view of nature, and with a ceiling that's about 10 feet tall: "When it's lower, it can feel oppressive, and when it's taller, it feels too formal."

San Francisco software firm Zendesk attempts to bring the outside indoors more subtly. Its office includes soft window seats, light wood beams throughout, green accent paint, and a two-story wall that's covered in moss. "We needed something a bit more organic to soften up an otherwise very clean work environment," says Toke Nygaard, Zendesk's chief creative officer.

Give Each Space a Purpose

Your employees probably don't want to work, eat lunch, take phone calls, and have prolonged discussions all in the same place. So create specific areas for eating, for meetings, and for focused work, says Kelly Robinson, the California designer of offices for Airbnb, SoundCloud, and CouchSurfing. She also suggests providing either a large central space or smaller drop-in nooks--somewhere to have a conversation that won't disrupt others' work--to encourage spontaneous meetings.

Reetika Vijay, the managing principal of IA Interior Architects in Boston and the designer behind HubSpot's new office, ensures that her floor plans have space for quiet work, including cell-phone-free libraries, phone booths, and quiet rooms. For louder conversations that generate a high-energy buzz, she put big, comfortable booths in HubSpot's lobby and tables inside an adjacent café. She also dotted the office with clusters of small tables, alcoves with couches, and rooms with standup tables for impromptu meetings.

Give People Control

Allowing employees to put up pictures and otherwise personalize their workspace can make a real difference in how they perform, says Augustin. "Get people involved in developing their own space," says Craig Knight, a United Kingdom researcher who studies the psychology of office space. "The happier and more comfortable workers feel, the more productive and creative they are."

Rally Software took that approach to heart when it designed its Boulder, Colorado, headquarters in 2013. The company installed tracks on the ceiling with hidden networking wires to let workers move walls and whiteboards at any time. That's a creative solution sure to inspire many others.

 

Dueling Influences

The jury is out on what makes for a creative mind when it comes to ...

Dark Versus Light

"Dark offices can be uncomfortable for everyone," says environmental psychologist Sally Augustin. So you should flood yours with light, right?

Not so fast. A 2013 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that darkened rooms actually inspire innovation, by eliciting feelings of freedom and self-determination, and by reducing inhibition. The researchers asked 114 German undergrads to work on four creative insight problems and found that those in a dimly lit room solved significantly more problems than those in intensely illuminated rooms.

One potential compromise, according to Kelly Robinson, an office designer: Lower the lights of meeting areas and office nooks when you want to encourage reflection and thinking, but fill those spaces with natural light for a more collaborative, energetic mood.

Mess Versus Order

Most design experts recommend getting rid of clutter to promote creativity. "Clutter is chaotic," says Robinson. But some research suggests that such chaos breeds inspiration. University of Minnesota scientist Kathleen Vohs found that people in a messy room came up with more imaginative new uses for a Ping-Pong ball than people in a tidy room.

Eric Abrahamson, a Columbia Business School professor and co-author of A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder, also extols the virtues of disorganization, contending that a messy desk allows independent ideas to be seen and connected in new ways. Those ideas might ordinarily be separated by order, he says: "People tend to feel guilty for being messy, but research shows creativity and messiness are related."

From the November 2015 issue of Inc. magazine