Do creative offices = creative companies?

27th March 2017

In the twentieth century, most office-based jobs revolved around a desk.  Whether that was working with pen and paper, type writer or computer, the norm was to have your own area, a space that you could call your own.  The open plan office becomes ubiquitous, row upon row of desks, tightly squeezed in.  All offices tended to look the same – bland, dull and featureless.

Developments in technology over the last few years have helped to change the way we work.  The widespread use of wifi, smartphones and cloud-based software mean many people can work anytime, anywhere.  The companies leading the digital revolution, the likes of Google, Apple and Facebook, have also pioneered a new style of office.

Their workspaces are bright, colourful, quirky and innovative.  They feature break-out zones, areas to relax and unwind and themed meeting rooms.  Employees don’t have a fixed location, they can work in a variety of settings around the building, whichever fits their mood or the task in hand.  The emphasis is on providing surroundings that stimulate creativity and collaboration. This is the theory, but does it work in practice and is it suitable for every industry?

With a company like Google, it’s very hard to distinguish whether their surroundings elevate their level of creativity or whether it’s the people that the company employs who are naturally creative and would be innovative in any surroundings.  It’s very similar to the nature or nurture debate in human development.  Most people conclude that both have an influence and it’s very hard to say one is more dominant than the other.

Ultimately, the purpose of an office is to be functional, suit the needs of employees and be a place where they want to come and work.  Bricks and mortar can only do part of the job.  The company itself must be an attractive proposition too.  Factors like leadership, culture, flexibility and attitude are all vitally important to employees today.  While collaboration zones and indoor slides can be different or exciting, they are not enough by themselves to make employees content in their jobs.  Companies are defined by the people who in work in them.  They are the beating heart which provides life to their surroundings. Building successful, high performing teams through putting employee wellbeing at the heart of the business, will attract the best talent and drive creativity more effectively than just a fancy office.

Looking at leading jobs and recruitment site Glassdoor, it’s really interesting to see which companies top their best places to work list.  While new, innovative online brands such as Expedia and Salesforce do feature in the top 10, it’s striking to see more traditional businesses make the list too.  HomeServe UK, who provide emergency insurance and repairs receive very high ratings from their employees, many of whom work remotely.  What their employees appreciate is the supportive and flexible environment.  Their offices are basic and functional, but these don’t hinder them from being successful in their marketplace and creating a strong proposition.

Building a creative office environment is no guarantee of long-term success.  Take the example of Mind Candy, creators of Moshi Monsters.  Their office in Shoreditch is decked out in astroturf carpeting, with vines hanging from the ceiling, a wooden treehouse for meetings and quiet areas designed to look like hobbit holes.  It looks amazing and is an incredible use of space.  However, once the popularity of Moshi Monsters began to fade and children switched their allegiance to the next, big craze, all this creative space wasn’t enough to help them sustain their success and they were forced to slash a third of their workforce in 2015.

Of course, for many smaller companies, creating something like Mind Candy’s office is completely unrealistic.  Budgets are tight and every penny needs to be carefully accounted for.  However, there are many simple and relatively inexpensive measures that they can take to make offices more inspiring, aiding employees to work collaboratively and fostering a creative attitude.  Here are just a few:

1 – Create a space where employees can escape their desks, have time to think or talk an issue through with colleagues. This can be as simple as a sofa or a couple of comfy chairs.  Having this kind of area helps employees to recharge and refocus.

2- Provide basic catering facilities. Just having a water cooler or a kettle gives employees a natural place to gather, get to know each other better and bond more effectively as a team.

3 – Use the walls to inspire creativity. Install whiteboards or pinboards that can be used for collective planning and thinking.  Setting out thoughts on a large scale provides a new perspective and allows employees to work together to find effective solutions.

4 – Encourage activities that employees can take part in together and enjoy as a team. This can be anything from regular drinks to baking competitions, whatever employees find interesting and want to do.  These provide common experiences for employees to share together, building rapport and understanding, vital elements that aid creativity.

5 – Invest in ergonomic furniture that can be adjusted to support the particular needs of each employee. Having the right physical support will ensure employees feel comfortable at their desks and able to give their full focus to their work, without niggling pains or irritations.

Creative companies are built by employees who are motivated and inspired.  The office space is just part of the story.  Other elements of culture, leadership and trust are also vital in providing an environment where creativity has the license to flourish.  A positive atmosphere combined with a well-considered space are the perfect combination and companies should look at them as two sides of the same coin.

Guest blog post by Elissa Dennis, Marketing & PR Consultant, Out Of The Many 

Elissa has extensive experience of working with a wide range of organisations, helping them to build the right marketing and communications strategy to produce sustained success.