Collaborative Offices are about More than Indoor Treehouses

With the rise of unusual, quirky, and downright offbeat office spaces, the heat is on to develop a workspace which is both functional and bang on-trend. Matthew Cooper of London-based Woodhouse Workspace explores what that might look like.

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Innocent’s HQ in London, replete with fake grass. Image courtesy of Innocent Drinks.

When Ticketmaster opened their London office, they sparked a flurry of interest with the introduction of an indoor slide for employees. For some, this represented an exciting and different way to inject a bit of fun and creativity into the office environment. For others, it was a gimmick too far. As the debate raged across the internet, one thing became clear: with many people spending in excess of 40 hours a week in the office, the need for dynamic, well-designed workspaces which engage employees and encourage collaborative working is paramount.

Where some companies introduce gadgets, others concentrate more on the space itself. In an attempt to boost creativity and give a taste of the outdoors, Innocent Drinks installed fake grass across the floor of their entire office. Virgin Money’s Edinburgh office has a blue sky complete with clouds painted across the ceiling. Such design concepts are all well and good if they do, indeed, boost creativity, but there’s a danger that after the initial excitement, the novelty will soon wear off.

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Virgin Money’s Edinburgh office. Image courtesy of Virgin Money.

A positive office culture is about far more than a bright color scheme or a fun new game. While no one wants to spend all day working in a drab, uninspiring environment, you can’t simply hire a designer, add some gadgets, and hope for the best, in the same way that the addition of a pool table won’t instantly create a fun, collaborative workspace. Your workspace needs to fit your people and your culture, not the other way around.

Despite the fake grass flooring, Innocent has made steps towards this ethos with the introduction of a large, communal kitchen area which has been strategically designed to give people the opportunity to mix and interact, key to boosting engagement and moral.

In a recent study, Office Genie asked 2,000 UK-based workers about their working environment. Respondents reported that the design of their workspace had by far the greatest impact on their well-being, with a well-designed office reportedly boosting feelings of happiness by 33 percent, compared to 12 percent for flexible working opportunities.

If it doesn’t come down to funky color schemes and the latest tech, then what does make an inspiring workplace which will boost productivity?

Work with your office culture

The key is to remember that a great office culture starts from the inside. A well-designed space should be created to reflect the ethos of the company as a whole, not to act as a Band-Aid to fix an ailing office culture. When your company’s values are strong, and your people are aligned with their work, then the right workspace can help make a good organization exceptional. But without clear direction and a purpose-driven design, it can fall flat on its face. It’s vital as a company that you find the right balance between your culture and creative workspaces.

Innocent's London office. Image courtesy of Innocent Drinks.

Innocent’s London office. Image courtesy of Innocent Drinks.

Those quirky features and layouts, which might work well in the creative or tech industries, could be disastrous if installed in a company with more traditional values or even a warehouse environment. That’s not to say that modern design concepts shouldn’t be implemented, but they need to chime with your brand and your people.

So, with all this in mind, what steps should you take to turn a space into an exceptional workplace?

Creating a smarter workplace strategy

The first step in any workspace design should be to analyze how your business actually operates, and to hone in on the culture of the company. By speaking directly to employees and delving into aspects of the work day such as time spent at desks, the number and size of meetings, as well as core business objectives, it’s possible to engineer a workspace that boosts productivity, collaboration, innovation, and more.

By involving your people in the design process from the start, you stand to create a sense of ownership and belonging, which will in turn boost morale and engagement with the business as a whole. You’ll begin to create spaces which work with the needs and personality of your business, inspire your workforce, and help you retain the best people.

Ensure your space actually meets the needs of your employees

With the rise of open plan offices, increasingly the tide is turning and people are asking for access to quieter areas where they can focus. Creating a space which encourages your employees to engage with the business as a whole is a balancing act. The needs of the end user need to be at the fore throughout the process, too. For many, the solution is to remove the ‘80s-style cubicles, and to introduce different areas to meet the different needs of employees throughout the working week. At Fast Company, for example, they have introduced an open plan office, but with library style partitions between certain areas to give the sense of privacy too.

With all of this in mind, it’s important to remember that as your business grows, your workspace will need to grow, too. It’s vital you work from the outset to ensure your culture remains uncompromised and that you constantly ask the question: “What is the end goal?”

When a workspace grows in a way that is aligned with your company, bridging the gap between architecture, interior design, and employee engagement, it will become a truly exceptional workspace.

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