How Your Office Space Is Stunting Your Company's Creativity
You must give team members the space they need.
Our last office space was an enviable spot; it was perched on one of the most expensive blocks in the city, had a fantastic view of the public gardens, it was quiet, yet centrally located.
Yet, something wasn't right. My company, a research firm that produces research reports on celebrity talent, was stuck in a creative rut. Here's what we did to fix it:
1. Don't assume an open floor plan is the answer.
Our prior office had direct elevator access, which opened up into an over-sized main room that boasted 16-foot ceilings with decorative moldings and a marble fireplace. We fostered an open floor plan layout, with every team sitting in the same room -- with hopes of elevating team communication and creativity.
But, the open floor plan concept seemed to be stunting our overall creativity and success.
Our team was half comprised of product marketers and data scientists, and half boisterous sales and marketers, and they didn't jive together in that room. The personality differences were amplified because our employees all sat in one confined space; at times when the technical teams wanted peace and quiet, the sales team was making cold calls and discussing their last big win.
As Chris Gorczyca of real-estate firm T3 Advisors told me, "The pendulum has swung too far in the open floor plan direction. While private offices aren't always necessary, providing private space for quiet thinking, reflection and a chance to recharge the batteries is necessary."
As it turns out, both introverted and extroverted employees need that quiet space for reflection. It was fascinating to watch the more extroverted team members toward the end of the day; all the calls and talking had worn them out. It was they who needed the quiet time the most, as opposed to the introverted team members who had stuck to themselves for the first 75 percent of the day.
I had originally considered a space with more separated areas but instead opted for this layout comprised of one main room, a small middle room, and a back conference room for sales calls. At the time, this felt like more than enough separate space.
But, I was wrong. Over time, I realized that our team wasn't able to get the quiet time they needed, so my co-founder and I signed a new lease that started three months before the prior lease was up. Double paying for those months was painful, but well worth the investment in retrospect.
2. Let your employees pick the office artwork.
What was the first thing we did when we arrived in the new space? We let our employees choose the office furnishings and artwork.
I didn't know this before the move, but an office aesthetic is an important physical expression of a company's personal brand. Our project manager picked the furniture. Our lead designer asked if she could reach out to a friend from high school, who painted celebrity headshots. Our head of PR asked if the celebrity mugshots drawn by one of our investors (a talented pencil artist) could be transported from my home to the office. Part of my company's research assesses the risk of the celebrity, so it seemed like a natural fit. Soon, we had a small collection of artwork that represented our company's brand.
Mugshots of Martha Stewart and Shia LaBeouf
In the past, I have worked for companies where the CEO chose all the artwork, and I remember thinking, I, too, am here all day. Why couldn't I have been involved in that process? Deciding your company's artwork should be a collaborative process where even the most junior employees have a say.
3. Hold monthly company-wide brainstorms.
Once the team got settled, we started holding frequent company-wide brainstorms. We brainstormed how we could drive more qualified leads, how we could get more press hits, how we could create more urgency with our prospective clients. And, these brainstorming sessions worked. We drove nearly three times the qualified leads in the 90 days following than we had in the three months prior, and the journalist and creating urgency brainstorms also drove a noticeable increase.
We had a few employees who expressed some unease when asked to present an idea they had brainstormed in front of the entire company. As a result, I suggested they collaborate with a colleague to brainstorm and present an idea together. This ensured that every team member was fully engaged.
There is another founder myth that should be debunked -- the notion that forced creativity doesn't work. If you have the right space and a leader who believes that creativity drives success, recurring brainstorms can be highly effective and can infuse creativity into your company on a regular basis.
As a leader, if you are able to dismiss many of the myths that typically influence office space decisions, you may be can create an environment that is highly inclusive and breeds creativity in a way that was previously unimaginable.
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