Sunday, 2 February 2014

20 innovative workspaces

“The best innovation environments are not created through traditional management channels but are self-organised” - Matt Kingdon

In The Science of Serendipity, author Matt Kingdon describes the relationship between workspaces and innovation.* Space affects all of us deeply, our moods, our behaviours and our ability to connect with others.
According to Kingdon, great insight and ideas do not just come naturally, and people should challenge frequently their desire to 'nest'. He suggests organisations to create structures that allow 'collision', people to bump into each other. A way of achieving that is by encouraging employees to sit wherever they want in an office. Collision is also emotional, not just physical. Eating together for instance can be a very powerful example of forcing emotional collision. And, if the organisation has the technology that supports working in different locations, then sitting in a different place each day can be a good recipe for serendipity.
Very important according to Kingdon, is to have “a flexible space that allows people to either collaborate or get their heads down”. Different places are needed at different times for different tasks. Open spaces allow people to get together and play with new ideas, whereas intimate spaces allow them to be uninterrupted, concentrate and get their work done. All of them are necessary to innovate.
Kingdon suggests that a good way to get the most flexible space for serendipity is to reframe it as a do-it-yourself activity rather than a management initiative. “Colleagues who design their space generally create a mix of social and 'head down' spaces. They spend less money than professional office outfitters and they feel more engaged as a result.”*

There are a lot of companies that prize and foster innovative workspaces, including the twenty listed below. Some of these spaces may surprise you, and perhaps inspire you. A few are very popular, some interpret space in a very creative and unconventional way, and a few may even make you disapprove. The point is, these places seem to work well for their organisations and people; they support innovation, productivity and help employees to get their work done.

The multi-campus of Epic Systems in Verona Wis., displays a variety of themes including Medieval-era meeting spaces and a subway.





Dropbox's space in California, provides a 'music room' with grand piano and a custom-made chandelier. Image by Bruce Damonte.



At Etsy, several cabinet-sized rooms with plenty of soft toys are designed for making private telephone calls.



Swedish Internet provider Bahnhof AB's workspace includes an ex-anti-atomic elevated office. It brings plenty of light, technology, plants and water. It is meant to contrast with the disadvantages of being underground. 



Clive Wilkinson Architects helped Pallotta Teamwork to create something standout with their workplace: brightly coloured shipping containers with each having their own departmental identity.



Selgas Cano's offices in Madrid emphasise the importance of the natural surroundings. Images by Iwan Baan.




Ogilvy & Mather Guangzhou office aims to provide staff with an environment that inspires creativity. The theme is 'Carnival of Ideas' designed by M Moser and Associates.





Living Social in Washington D.C, provides workers with both recreational and meeting spaces that encourage movement. Some areas bring elements of the outdoors indoors (e.g. the bike rack and a colorful mural). Image by The Washington Post/Getty images.



At Box California, work is play. Employees take their shoes off when approaching the two-story spiral slide which descends into the lobby.




Fornari Group's offices are very futuristic. Colour changing LED lights, curved edges, and waving patters blur the line between walls, floor and ceiling.




Hully - designed by Venezia Homedesign - is a comfortable and multi-purpose workstation made of stress-resistant synthetic material on a metal frame. The seat cushion can be repositioned and adjusted to create a laptop desk. Image Design You Edit. 



BrandBase's office shows the elegance of sustainability. The majority of their furnishings are made from wooden pellets. 




Google is well known for its extravagant offices including the ones below. 













Staffing agency Pasona Group in Tokyo invites the greenery right into the workspace. The building has around 200 types of rise, fruits and vegetables that are turned into meals for workers. The urban agriculture initiative promotes the importance of productivity, mental health, social interaction and involvement with the wider community. Photos courtesy of Kono Design.










CoCo Minneapolis's spaces foster the concept of sharing ideas. They have adjusted part of the old trading board into a Twitter feed. Plus a colorful banner that plays on 'exchange' emphasises the concept of exchanging ideas through co-working.
Images via CoCo Minneapolis.






Grant Thornton offices in Belfast are fun, yet functional. The themed meeting rooms (e.g. Willy Wonka Emporium, Harry Potter, and Jurassic Park) host training sessions and groups gatherings. Photos by Press Eye.





At Skullcandy International in Zurich, employees can decide how to configure their desks depending on whether they need to work individually or collaboratively.



iProspect's workspace in Texas, includes the 'Brain Room'. This is a curve-shaped conference room which, without corners, is meant to promote collaboration.




At AirBnB's HQ, the meeting rooms are designed as a carbon copy of the company's most beautiful listings. They also highlight the notion of working from an apartment. 



'Shoffice' (shed + office) is a garden pavilion in London, that contains a small office alongside garden storage. The space is ideal for creative work without distractions.


Places have a big impact on employees's performance and ways of communicating. Depending on the nature and context of the work, everyone seems to have their own preferences. Plus, the digital age has brought in new possibilities to re-imagine and re-invent the concept of the workplace: we work from home, while travelling on the train or on the plane, while having a coffee inside a bar, in hotels during business trips, etc. Surely, many workspaces are not as unconventional and creative as the ones above, and they do not have to.  

Is there a particular workspace that inspires you the most? Where do you usually go to get your work done? Does your organisation provide you and your colleagues with stimulating spaces? I would love to know your story.

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*This is an extract from the book review originally published on simply-communicate on 24 October 2013: The science of serendipity: the promise of innovation inside organisations