Creative Workspaces Are Evolving Again

Creative Workspaces

In ad agencies and design studios around the globe, the tug of war continues between enhancing creative processes and ensuring efficiency and productivity. Add technology, mobility and remote workforces, and we’re in the midst of another shift in workspace design and concepts. The previous shift drove agencies’ move away from traditional office design to open space concepts. But after a decade or more of working in open space offices, many agencies and businesses in general are reverting to more traditional office layouts.

Creative Review, a UK trade website, has been examining these workspace trends and recently shared some findings on why open spaces are not as functional as agencies hoped. 

Sixty-eight percent of respondents to the workspace survey told Creative Review they worked in an open plan office. Respondents also noted that open plans served two key purposes: inviting/encouraging collaboration and creative interactions, and reducing hierarchical formality. But many noted the drawbacks of open concept spaces, listing their biggest obstacles to working efficiently:

Distractions, interruptions, noise42%
Lack of informal, quiet or display spaces23%
Lack of privacy6%
Desk sharing/hot desking5%
Lighting issues5%
Network, internet, IT issues5%

Eighty percent of respondents also said they had a dedicated personal workspace. Only one percent agreed that working alone/isolation was a problem.

Having dedicated spaces for specific tasks was cited by 22 percent of survey respondents as the thing they would most like to change about their current workspaces. Seventy-three percent of respondents believe that location (being in a place surrounded by or close to other creative businesses or organizations) was either very or fairly important. Curiously, sharing a building with other creative businesses was not as important as being in a creative neighborhood. Nevertheless, WeWork co-working spaces have sprung up in 23 cities since 2010, attracting 40,000 members, indicating desire for community is strong.

Business leaders recently confessed to the Wall Street Journal that open workspaces have them fighting distraction, loss of focus and control of personal time. Distractions have multiplied and their effect is magnified. Now, replicate that experience across entire organizations.

Remote vs. On-Site Workers 

Half of the workforce is forecast to be working remotely by 2020, per a Technology Landscape report from Citrix. Other findings:

  • The benefits of co-location (having everyone in a traditional office) break down as the business grows. What works well for 5-10 people starts to come apart as you add people, space, floors and silos.
  • De-centralized companies offer more protection from disaster, reduce facilities costs, and create more freedom for workers and owners/partners to do more important things.
  • Employees enjoy better work-life balance, taking advantage of flex time, greater autonomy, the ability to work when your energy is highest, and a focus on ROWE (results-only work environments).
  • Companies benefiting from team engagement (like ad agencies) should maintain team bonds by offering activities-focused workspaces that are enjoyable for employees (no reason to leave)—and encouraging outside gatherings where team members can bond.

CR survey respondents seemed torn between two ideals: 1) freedom to work anywhere, including at home or out-of-office—what workspace designer David Drews of Allied London calls “mobility within a fixed location”; and 2) a desire for personal or private office space, including space to store personal stuff. People seem to want spaces that allow flexibility or serve specific functions or needs… and at least some space they can call their own. 

Posture Changes How Your Brain Works!

Studies indicate relaxed positions are good for critique and analysis; upright postures promote active engagement. Offer seating and spaces to encourage different modes of thought.

Still hanging on to “stuff”

We still cling to paper files, desk tchotchkes and an assortment of other personal paraphernalia perceived as necessary for getting through the workday. When will we finally let go of the physical stuff and just be digital with everything? Or, in a creative business, does all of that stuff contribute to creative thinking? Agency owners should aim to strike a balance between personal space and open, collaborative spaces. They should also ensure that creative toys, reading materials, visual resources and other inspirational tools are available in think pods, where creative people can retreat when they need to upend a stalled thought process or trigger a mental shift. 

Finally, agency owners should seek to create productivity spaces where people can spend concentration time. People like to feel they are a part of a team or community, but they also need quiet, reflective spaces to focus in on solo efforts. 

The idea of a central office or de facto headquarters still seems ingrained in workforce expectations; workers want to feel they are a part of something, not solo fliers who take occasional meetings with other solo operators. If we dispense with physical offices entirely, we should find other ways to bond the group into a team.

Windowless Offices Are in Retreat

Drews says they are increasingly reversing an early co-working floor plan where shared or “hotel” space was in the center, and collaborative spaces ran around the outside. Now, they try to give windows to private spaces, and put collaborative, open space in the center. They want people using the space to be able to “think differently in a different space” by simply stepping out of their office.

Drews also says he learned from a retail project for Nike that people using a space are very much influenced by visuals—they look at a space and develop a feeling for whether they will be comfortable or inspired working there. Agency owners should consider color, lighting, and overall décor not just to satisfy their own design yens, or to impress clients, but with employee attraction and retention in mind.

Serendipitous Workspaces

Other people’s creativity helps to boost our own, whether by collaboration, audience/feedback or competition. Designing flow—how people move around your office space—to encourage serendipitous encounters can enhance the happy accidents of shared ideas that spur creative thinking. That means workspace can be designed with plenty of privacy, as long as traffic flows to and through areas where people of various disciplines or working on different projects can “meet by chance” to enjoy unexpected conversations… and fresh inspiration.

Walking Meetings

Motion engages your brain differently than sitting in one place. Try taking short meetings while walking around the building, or even take the meeting outdoors. 

If moving to more fluid workspace or overhauling your current space is not in the budget, take some time to see how employees currently use your space. Are there areas where they retreat when they need quiet time? Can you fit in comfy chairs or a rolling desk? How about areas where people tend to gather in twos and threes to chit-chat or have quick stand-up meetings? Maybe install a tall café table and a few bar stools for impromptu meetings; tall tables and chairs encourage inclusive gatherings, because people who are seated remain at eye-level with those who stop to chat for a few minutes. By refreshing spaces already in use for certain purposes to encourage those uses, your space will be more functional and creative. 

Think also about how outsiders see and use your space. BBH (Bartle Bogle Hegarty) reported that their long wooden tables were adopted by visiting clients, so they created a sort of “club” area for networking and conversation, and encouraged clients to drop in. Other creative firms are rethinking their lobby areas as hubs where visitors and employees may use WiFi and interact. Some are creating co-working space for their freelancers and independent contractors. Making some of these more public spaces visible to street traffic also boosts the energy level and sense of being part of the larger community.

Workspace is evolving to meet the changing demands of our more mobile, technology-enhanced work lives. Is your agency changing to meet the needs of your workforce and clients? We spend a big chunk of our lives at work. Good design can make that time more rewarding, more creative and just plain more enjoyable. 

We’d love to feature your workplaces in Second Wind Magazine. Send us video or images and we’ll get in touch: editor@secondwindonline.com.


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