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Trends in the office: If you want innovation ... create the right work environment

"If you want innovation, then you need interaction. If you want productivity, then you want people working from home." – this is a very famous thought expressed by John Sullivan, professor of management at the university in San Francisco, who supported Yahoo's decision to withdraw the possibility of off-site work in order to strengthen the company's innovative approach. What role does the office space perform in creating innovation and does the office space perform the role in fact?

Ewelina Solecka, Workplace Consulting Manager

Nowadays, innovation is highly desirable since it means progress and helps contemporary companies build their competitive advantage. Peter Drucker1 once said: "the enterprise that does not innovate inevitably ages and declines." The quick pace of development forces companies to concentrate on increasingly higher quality and modernity, which is why the role of innovation in shaping the modern economy has recently become a key aspect. However, innovation should not be treated as something great or even inaccessible. In a board sense, innovation means facilitating, improving and changing things in different areas connected with the way a company functions. The question that should be asked is: how can we determine innovation in an enterprise and what factors should be taken into consideration?

Innovative

If you have an idea and I have an idea...

Irish writer and dramatist George Bernard Shaw once said: "If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas." Interactions between employees are much more valuable than people thought in the past. Cooperation, which was previously understood only as planned meetings held in meeting rooms, is based up to 70% on interactions in the office space2. Spontaneous meetings, called "collisions," are particularly precious. These are all direct and incidental contacts between colleagues. They can take place over a cup of coffee, during a meal, in a coatroom, when employees go to the toilet or a meeting, on the landing or simply anywhere. These numerous, unplanned and short conversations allow employees to exchange opinions and share ideas. They not only increase employees' efficiency, but also give rise to innovative ideas. All the positive incidents, the possibility to join a discussion and express one's opinion of someone else's project, a piece of advice received from a colleague who deals with a different area – all these situations when employees share ideas and inspire each other are beneficial to them. But does innovation really mean the exchange of ideas? Yes, it does. Interdisciplinary cooperation, the process of creating new ideas together and the clash of different points of view are the things that foster innovation. Nigel Oseland3, scientist, co-founder of WCO (Workplace Consulting Organisation) and leading figure in the field of workspaces, analysed the influence interactions exert on the process of creating innovation. According to him, interactions are key. By combining cooperation, the exchange of knowledge, as well as employees' reflections and insights, we can give rise to new ideas that go far beyond the existing knowledge.

Innovation needs interactions, but also some space

The internal culture that triggers off interactions and the process of generating ideas is the essential requirement of innovation. Another key aspect is also a place where new ideas will come into being. Analyses of the current work style show that employees spend 45% of their working time sitting at their desks5. This means that people become more mobile and work in different places of the office or even outside it for over half of their working time. That's good. As research6 shows, a greater number of ideas are generated away from desks – 79% of them come into being as a result of interactions between employees in the office. To make sure the interactions are effective, it is worth thinking of office zones that facilitate the exchange of ideas and opinions, since an ordinary conference room is no longer enough.
When creating a typology of office zones in Nowy Styl Group, we analysed our clients' work styles and organised interdisciplinary workshops during which we concentrated on all the activities employees undertake in the office space. There was one key conclusion we drew from our analyses – the communication process in the office is diverse; it is based on different forms of interaction, which is why the needs concerning the office space arrangement are highly varied. Informal meeting zones, places for holding quick stand-up consultations, spaces designed for working in small project teams, closed rooms of different types, and soft seating (armchairs, pouffes and sofas) are just some examples of the solutions we can implement in the office to facilitate communication between employees.
 

Communication zone in the office

What is important in creating effective meeting places? Two researchers – Fayard and Weeks4 claim that the way participants in a meeting behave is influenced not only by social determinants, but also physical factors connected with the space. They have defined a set of space features that facilitate informal contacts. The places designed for interactions should be near workstations and bring people closer in a natural way. They should be available, functional, and furnished with the right equipment. They should also ensure privacy and a company should allow employees to make use of them. The company's work style is also important when it comes to creating places for communication. A detailed analysis of the types of meetings employees hold and the ways they perform their tasks will be helpful in designing and arranging such places.

The contemporary office is mainly a place for meetings. The current pace of technology development allows us to work from anywhere. However, we still come to the office to meet with our colleagues and work together. It is worth using this aspect and through the right arrangement of space encouraging employees to exchange their thoughts more effectively. This will facilitate the process of creating innovation which is important for the companies that wish to develop. The meeting places that are diverse and properly arranged will surely support teams in performing their everyday duties and stimulate their innovative character.
 

The contemporary office is mainly a place for meetings
The contemporary office is mainly a place for meetings
The contemporary office is mainly a place for meetings
The contemporary office is mainly a place for meetings

Sources:

[1] Drucker, P.F. Innowacja i przedsiębiorczość, Warszawa 1992.

[2] CABE. (2005). The impact of office design on business Performance. Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment and the British Council for Offices, p. 1-79.

[3]Oseland, N. Marmot, A. Swaffer, F. Ceneda, S. (2011). Environments for Successful Interaction. Facilities, vol. 29, no.1/2, pp. 50-62.

[4] Fayard, A. and Weeks, J. (2005), Photocopiers and Water-coolers: The Affordances of Interaction, INSEAD Working Paper Series, Fontaineblau.

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