Every business wants to be like Google some day, and businesses are realizing there is something in the physical layout that contributes to success. Facebook is building a space where people can live, eat, party, swim - and work. And, Apple has started supersonic campus for its future. There seems to be a direct line linking environment, collaboration, and innovation.
Before the horse leads the cart, small businesses should study collaboration and the role crowdsourcing plays in daily work. If it means brainstorming, workplace design is no big issue. If collaboration means putting in your two cents, that is not a design issue; a round table and a flipchart will do.
But, when collaboration becomes the strategy adding value to business outcomes, it invites, hosts, and retains employees who have different shared expectations. Plush, private, and elegant have not been part of these workers' experience, and the corner office, leather chair, and deep carpet perks mean nothing to them or their work product.
Collaborate on the Needs
If collaboration is truly part of the operations, the collaborators need a say in the work environment. There are only a few issues on the table: traffic, meeting, creative, and kitchen spaces, as well as individual, team, and public spaces.
Some businesses like floating workstations while others need display and model space. Some have sequential processes while others research and develop. All are variations on the use of space. Sometimes the best designers are the folks who work in those spaces.
Study the Space
It is harder to redesign an existing floor plan than to create a new plan. Instead of looking for the best views or staking out square footage, the business owner should imagine the space without walls, ceilings, or floor covering. There is visual value in overhead pipes and duct work. Unfinished walls and floors are attractive, too.
Area become "rooms" defined by cabinets, cases, and office machines. Color comes from woods, throw rugs, and cushioned furniture. Standing work counters are in high demand as are wide stairs, nooks, and floor cushions. Work stations are more functional and less territorial, and meeting areas are identified with conversation pits or platforms.
The collaborative lifestyle is functional and minimalist. Hipster workers are used to living out of a backpack, carrying a power pack of technology in a smart phone, and eating on the run. Their millennial wardrobe is skinny and all-purpose, and their community revolves around social media. They frame and solve problems through crowdsourcing and respond to environments that cater to it.
Bring the Outdoors In
It is easy to add warmth, color, and texture to a stripped out workspace by bringing them indoors. Wood is a gloriously comforting medium - flexible, fragrant, and varied. It makes table and countertops, platforms and benches. Stone builds steps and stairs, planters or visual points of interest. Greens offset dull walls or those used for chalkboards. Outdoor color can determine furniture, wall, or carpet colors. Build a pile of river stones in a corner and watch how they realign.
Reclaim the Space
Space designers understand the value of perspective, proportion, and purpose better than the average business owner.
- Most businesses need some quiet space as an individual refuge or for small meeting team conversations. The designer understands how to space and size that, how to admit air and light without crushing the purpose with noise.
- Lunch is a counter event. Most collaborative workers spend more time eating with baristas or bartenders than they do in white tablecloth environments, so they are just as likely to eat or work on stools.
- There may be a need to hold uninterrupted meetings, but privacy and confidentiality are not the norm, so glass may be the best wall.
- Some work requires shared illustration or process management, so let the walls be the artists' background.
- Most collaborative work requires video and/or slideshow presentations; media rooms can be public, too.
There are exceptions to this free-styling. Customer Service departments may still need some focus and definition. Shipping and receiving have special needs. But, where collaboration drives the business value, workplace design can facilitate its performance, enhance the work experience, and improve the business outcomes.