There are few greater compliments for a company than being perceived as innovative – fresh thinking and doing things differently to stand out from the crowd.
While much of this innovation comes down to a company’s products and services to keep it at the forefront of the market in which it operates, it’s also about the company’s culture. And creating the right workplace conditions is paramount.
A 2016 survey by the architecture, design and consulting firm Gensler revealed a statistical correlation between workplace design and how innovative that company’s employees believe it to be; companies with high scores for workplace functionality and effectiveness also had better innovation rankings.
So just what are the key elements that links companies at the more innovative end of the scale?
1. High-quality design
Simply selecting a design someone thinks is innovative will not greatly increase the probability that innovation happens. “What’s really important is understanding how people attempt to innovate and how their current space creates barriers to that capability,” says Ed Nolan, Managing Director, Consulting at JLL. “Knowledge of the right behaviors that enable more innovation, as well as the behaviors that don’t, is critical when designing office space.” And that will vary significantly from company to company.
2. Time away from the desk
Areas such as cafes and open collaboration areas are strategically positioned in the floor plan to encourage what Nolan refers to as “serendipitous collisions,” also known as the water cooler effect. “There is a definite correlation in the manners in which people connect with each other that stimulates innovation,” says Nolan. If you’re locked down and anchored to your desk, those collisions are less likely to take place. “But the more collisions you have with others who aren’t on your team, the more opportunities you have to communicate, share ideas and innovate.”
Flexibility refers to providing employees with multiple choices of workspaces so they can match the space they choose to what they are trying to accomplish. This applies to both inside and outside the office. “Companies that are stimulating innovation are beginning to understand the creativity that can occur through interaction with people outside the firm,” says Nolan. Examples of this include co-working locations and business centers.
Innovative companies also embrace agile working to give employees the control to balance their workday and maximize their productivity. “Older work environments had an assigned desk or office as their prime workplace,” says Nolan. “We’re seeing a shift to more control for an employee to determine the right space that best meets their need, whether that means working on site, from home or at a third-party location.”
While an on-site spa or complimentary meals might seem like great perks, companies should take an informed approach with amenities. Innovative companies offer amenities that are customized to their values and culture and meet established objectives, such as increasing retention, attracting highly skilled talent and/or improving conversion rates around bringing talent on board. “The amenities offered by a company should reflect their key objectives, and they should be regularly measured and assessed to determine if they’re helping achieve those objectives,” says Nolan.
Perhaps most important of all, innovative companies exercise trust with employees. “Some office construction or renovation conversations are too biased toward the physical design without recognizing how to provide trust,” says Nolan.
Lack of trust, possibly even more than the physical office space, can hinder innovation. “What’s really at the core of this is leadership granting control and believing that employees will make good choices about how, when and where they work, which will spark the innovation they are trying to achieve.”