Five Ways to Make a Workplace Environment More Creative

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Scott Witthoft and Scott Doorley for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.

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Winston Churchill famously said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.” The places we work and the ways we think are inextricably linked: a few changes to one inform the other. It’s possible to shape an environment to encourage creativity and collaboration. And changes to a workplace need not be complicated: simple changes are often the most effective, if only because they will actually be implemented. If your office space is dampening creativity and your company’s facilities department isn’t a resource, there is hope. Here are [two of] five tactics you can use to improve a less-than-ideal work environment.

1. Begin with your own mindset. Reframe what you can’t do into what you can do.
This is a cunning approach to making the most impact with the fewest resources: it is guerrilla warfare. You need to take small immediate steps toward change, instead of retreating from seemingly insurmountable infrastructure.

2. Focus on a few basic variables.
 Posture, orientation (of people relative to each other), and ambience (the intangibles of a room, like lighting) are easy to tweak in any environment. For example, we’ve noticed time and time again that an upright posture encourages people to stay alert and engaged in problem solving, while a comfortable, “lean-back” posture often turns people into passive critics. Critique is important at times, but it can get in the way of idea generation. At the we use tall stools gathered in small circles for many work sessions. The stools aren’t selected for comfort; they’re tall and upright to keep students alert and prompt them to get up and move about.

Ambience has huge impact while often receiving little attention, or credit. Be aware of how a room feels, and act like a good host. Simply adding multiple sources of warm light (e.g. floor lamps) and opening some windows can change the tone of a meeting space — and of the meeting itself — from institutional and routine to refreshing and special. If your culture can bear it, add in a little music as people enter to perk people up.

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The bottom line: take small actions. Be opportunistic, make easy changes, and invite others to work with you.

[Editor’s note: For more insights on designing spaces for creative collaboration, listen to this interview with Scott and Scott.]

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To read the complete article, please click here.

Scott Witthoft  and Scott Doorley are co-directors of the Environments Collaborative at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the at Stanford University and the authors of Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration. To check out more blog posts by Scott Witthoft and Scott Doorley, please click here.



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