The last few decades have allowed us to realize that creativity, as an innate human ability to solve problems and generate ideas, is the fuel for innovation. Contemporary business challenges are complex and pressing, and there is demand for a creative approach to solving them.
Supporting creativity at work has nowadays become crucial for business development and growth. In this dynamic and ever-changing corporate scenario, how can creativity be fostered? More specifically even, what is the role of the physical environment in substantially fostering creativity?
All around the world, employees have started demanding something new and different in terms of workspace design. To cope with their rejection of traditional offices, organizations have started investing considerable resources in designing spaces that look and feel more like home, which are flexible, enable exchange and networking among colleagues, and are mostly emotionally comfortable. A great challenge tackled by modern companies is to enable employees to express their creativity at work and to turn their creative potential into something real, while simultaneously meeting corporate goals and performances. This task is per se challenging due to the limited availability of time. When it comes to the physical environment, organizing the space in different working zones so as to accommodate the different working needs, emerging through the development of ordinary tasks, as well as during the phases of a creative process, is not an easy task. Taking into account the user´s needs is therefore crucial when planning to design a workspace for innovation. Users will indeed express different needs depending on their personal habits, preferences, and work tasks.
Even though these considerations might appear obvious, and several experts in workspace of innovation have already mentioned the importance of taking users need into account, research has shown that the vast majority of modern companies design creative workspaces looking alike and all resembling the same characteristics. Instead of designing creative workspaces following a participative approach, several organizations designed their spaces for innovation copying the style of other organizations that proved to be successful. Previous research highlighted that stereotyped and standardized creative workspaces do not trigger the desired creative responses of the people experiencing them. The reasons of these effects are found in their lack of uniqueness and authenticity. Stereotyped environments lack the experience of a space created for its inhabitants so to maximise their individual as well as collective potentials.
In order to trigger the desired reaction and creative performances in its users, the creative workspace should thus be co-created and designed according to the three, primarily sensorial foundations, identified by Alison Williams: the Aristotelian senses (taste, touch, sight, sound and smell); the Steinerian senses (speech, thinking, life and ego); and the neurological senses (spaciousness and movement). These sensory properties can be combined in infinite different ways to allow the creative power of the overall organization and of each single individual experiencing it daily to shine through.
An atypical, yet effective creative workspace
Among the creative workspaces analysed for research on creative workspaces, the most “unconventional” was the one of an Italian programmer, who managed to turn a 27sqm space into his creative office as well as his second home. The environment is an open-space, with a micro-kitchen, a desk with two stools, a sofa, a television and a guitar. Apart from a few green plants decorating the environment, everything was plain white.
He explained that he feels affected by the physical environment while working and he can express his creativity at best in simple, tidy, minimalist-designed environments. Colours distract him; especially bright ones disturb his idea of aesthetics and hinder his concentration. What is instead fostering his creative performances is the intrinsic modularity of the space that can be quickly reconfigured in an office, a meeting room, a kitchen, a living room and a space where to nurture his greatest hobby, the music.
When he needs to exchange opinions with colleagues or network with other experts in his field, he switches his computer on and starts typing. His computer, keyboard and monitor represent his unlimited source of information and main point of contact to the outer world. He agrees that it is not a traditional way of working and living a life, but it works well to fulfil his needs and to allow him to be creative in what he does. Such a workspace, as conceived and designed by its user, is indeed the best solution to facilitate the development of his creative process.
Ask the users
The configuration of the physical environment can support creativity, but the individual, with his specific needs, his personality and his curiosity are the essential ingredients for it. Therefore, in order to be successful, the creative workspace needs to be designed according to the preferences and needs of the individuals experiencing it.
If the environment is conceived for several users, it should be the result of a “democratic” compromise. After having undergone a phase of collection of ideas, define a “Lead Team”, with representatives from all levels and departments, in charge of the final decisions concerning the design and the style of the building.
Enable and enchant
Creative workspaces, in order to foster creativity substantially, should be rich in possibilities to enchant people, trigger their curiosity and enable different modes of work and interaction.
How can the physical environment enchant people? With artworks, décor elements, inspirational quotes, posters, etc.
How can they trigger curiosity? By not being fixed and banal. The environment should go through a process of constant change and reconfiguration. The creative workspace should never be finished and should enable people to be surprised and enchanted by it. A small gadget, a new artwork, a plant can already be enough to sparkle interest and curiosity.
How can it enable different modes of work and interaction? By being modular and presenting different working zones. The environment should be easily reconfigurable and be preferably arranged in zones enabling interactions in small as well as big groups, networking, and deep solo concentration as well as opportunities for relaxation and restoration.
Stay unique and authentic
The best environments are original, unique and authentic. They might not resemble the look of traditional creative workspaces, but are surely most effective because they are self-designed and created by those experiencing them.