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Creativity and Connectivity Key to Productive Workplace

Kevin Kuske, turnstone

Kevin Kuske, Skipper and Chief Brand Anthropologist, turnstone, contributed this article to BusinessNewsDaily's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Dare we finally say — 'the cubicle is dead?' Many have wanted to, but in the world of the entrepreneur it has finally met its match.

Work is changing. Lynda Gratton, author of "The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here" said, "The speed at which the nature of work is changing is staggering … What we are witnessing now is a break with the past as significant as that in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries …" However, one thing has not changed — the importance of people to the success of great entrepreneurs and small businesses.

The information age is giving away to what we like to call 'the networked age of distributed work'. It would be fair to ask — does coming together to work still matter?

Technology is fueling the ability to work anywhere. Our world is urbanizing with soon to be 50-75 percent of the world's population living in cities. Huge demographic changes are in play. The boomers are leaving the workforce, and GenY is entering in record numbers and reshaping the workplace. We are seeing the early signals of carbon footprint actually driving decisions and behavior. Women and minorities are finally taking more and more significant leadership roles. We no longer can afford to go to work and come home less healthy.

Co-creation is ascending as the new dominant model of innovation, creativity and differentiation. In this world — being together and being apart both matter, here's why:

  • Coming together is important. Creativity, innovation and a strong sense of culture all build off of connections and trust. It is also important to ask, why do high performance mobile workers still come to the office? They come for very simple reasons: people need people, people need technology and people need spaces that bring those two together in effective ways that help build bonds and trust. Innovation cannot exist without these.
  • Choice and control are equally important. Different types of work are best done in different settings, and all of that flexibility can't be delivered by one desk and chair. Is that how you work at home? Serendipity does not only happen sitting next to the same person every day.

As always, we see these societal, technological and cultural changes playing out faster in the world of entrepreneurs. They are the ones most drawn to experiment and challenge and who have the lowest barriers to change.

It is also a critical part of how they fight for talent. Entrepreneurs know that they live and die by the talent they surround themselves with and keep. A revolving door of talent is not helpful.

As we studied highly effective and desirable entrepreneurial firms who are succeeding, we see them focusing on some common elements:

  • Their personality comes through.
  • They have the freedom to be themselves.
  • There is passion for their craft.
  • A sense of community makes them part of something bigger.
  • They have meaningful fun.
  • They have a choice on how and where they want to work.
  • They take time to connect.

This has led to the death of the working in a box. The hunt is on to create spaces that allow the entrepreneur to express their unique culture, that encourages spontaneous interaction, that screams that fun is a meaningful part of the creative process, and encourages personal expression making people feel at home. We believe that critical elements of ditching the cube include:

  • Space(s) with personality — architecturally interesting, with stories, high ceilings, raw floors, exposed brick, lots of natural light and tie to nature.Big and open, and don't you dare fill it with cubes.
    Lay it out like you are a great urban planner. Vibrant cities have zones, and every great workspace should as well — zones to play, concentrate, collaborate, socialize, and create. All of this in an open environment that gives people choice and control over where to work but lots of serendipity in terms of who they bump into.
  • Unchain the user — free up people to move. Find ways to break the one desk = one person. Let those who are willing to move during the day sit, perch and stand in a variety of places. Work next to someone new — often.
  • Enable buzz — think like a great restaurant designer.Part of this is not having a dedicated spot for everyone, since they will not be there all day! You need a critical density of people in the space to get buzz. Play music, encourage play — kill the white noise machine. Walk through, if voices are quiet and guarded you don't have it right.
  • Let the inmates run the asylum — creativity is enabled when people are free to be themselves. Recognize that not everyone creates or shares the same way — some go digital, some love doodling, some love Legos, make sure spaces are available everywhere to support the lightening inspiration. Express the personality and culture of the company by encouraging employees to personalize the space — allow workers to bring their bikes, pets, pictures and crazy iconic objects to work. This allows them to be themselves, feel more comfortable and let the creative juices flow.
  • Bring personality, culture, color and nature into the space — a lively space. A study from Texas A&M University found that flowers and plants increase workplace productivity and creative performance. In fact, men who participated in the study produced 30 percent more ideas when working in environments with plants. Similar studies exist for the impact of color and light. Nature is designed the way it is for a reason!

More often than not, our work is that of co-creation. People still need and want to come together in a physical space. They come for very simple reasons: people need people, people need technology and people need spaces that bring those two together in effective ways. We also need ties and trust to those we innovate and create with. Coming together in a shared space is still one of the best ways to build these ties. For all these reasons, a workspace still matters very much to small businesses and small businesses are leading the way in creating the post-cubicle world.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.