Whether you're part of the growing army of Americans who work from home, or you commute daily to an office, before you start work today, take a few minutes to reflect on your surroundings. Are they spacious and uncluttered? Or is your desk full of half-eaten candy bars and coffee-stained mugs? Does the air circulate freely and give you room to maneuver and engage with your coworkers, or do you have to hurdle over obstacles on your way to your chair? When it comes to creativity, location matters.
We're talking about the location of your furniture, the space between your workers' desks, common areas, and maximizing every aspect of the physical space, from floors and walls to furnishings, not prime real estate. Sure, we'd all like to work from a palm fringed beach hut in the Maldives, or a highly hung canopy-deep in the jungle. But independent of your physical location, whether you're in a penthouse in Wall Street or a basement in Harlem, the space you work in has a direct impact on how creative you are. Here's why.
According to Tom Heffernan of Gensler architects, you can leverage the power of design to create a better learning environment and a more creative workplace. He says, "Learning spaces must incorporate opportunities for experimentation and create feedback loops for students to try something new and see the results of their efforts, then adjust their approach." While Heffernan was referring to an educational facility, the same idea holds true in the workplace.
To prepare students for the nature of new and more creative roles, a traditional lecture theatre is thrown out in favor of freer spaces that allow them to form small groups and get absorbed in the learning to produce their most creative work. When you apply the same concept to the workplace, the same results can be seen. Brainstorming sessions and innovative ideas by coming together, rather than stuck behind a desk facing a wall.
Heffernan explains, "By giving students more room to move, resources to use and time to engage, they immerse themselves in their education until learning starts to look like play, resulting in curiosity and inquiry. A passion for inquiry can be viewed as a model of success in this new learning ethos, encouraging students to ask questions of their environment."
Just think about some of the most creative companies around, like Apple and Google, whose site campuses are world famous. It's not just about PR. Beyond the yoga classes and bringing your pets to work, there's a clear understanding of how the location around their workers positively impacts their creativity
For example, it should be easy for workers to mix with upper management and to feel that they can move around freely. The newly inaugurated Apple Park wasn't just designed to be a cool campus, but a "democratic workplace" to foster innovation.
Heffernan reinforces the importance of doing away with the traditional distance between teachers and students in universities, saying, "Students want to interact with faculty members outside of office hours, and thus it is important to create common spaces shared by all members of the school, faculty, students and administration to provide for great opportunities for mentorship and inspiration."
The spaces between classrooms and offices are important too. They are not just connectors in between buildings or departments, every inch of your premises matters. "Outdoor spaces need to be treated as learning environments and not just connector paths. Stress on campus is high, so the space should demonstrate life/work balance to offset." Few companies have shown their understanding of the importance of this balance as well as Apple and Google, with gyms, restaurants and even massage rooms for staff.
You may not have the resources of a sprawling multinational, but you can start with the small things, such as trying a little feng shui! If your office is divided into compartments, consider removing some segments or knocking down some walls. Or, at the very least, implementing an open door policy that allows employees to be heard and feel important.
Where you sit can increase productivity, as well as which workers sit together, and how their chairs are arranged, so consider all details of your working environment and try to maximize each one. Location matters if you want to get the creative juices flowing freely, rather than getting blocked, crashing into furniture or walls.