Why do we come to work in an office any more? In an era of mobile computing and the virtual office, why don’t we just work from home? Well increasingly the point is collaboration – it’s because in communications, like in so many other sectors, joint endeavour is quite simply better than sole enterprise at getting to the best outcome.
But if the reason to struggle in to the city centre office is to co-create with our colleagues and clients, then is our current crop of offices fit for purpose? Looking more like call centres than creative collaboration spaces, serried ranks of desks still fill out most offices. As a result, offices look like the enemies of collaboration and innovation, rather than the catalyst for joint working.
Now the tut-tutting of disgruntled COOs is starting to get louder as more creative businesses sacrifice Optimized Space Utilization Strategies to pursue the longer term goal of collaborative working spaces that act as catalysts for creativity.
At Engine, where I work and head up innovation, we’ve been trying out a number of approaches. Half of the ground floor is dedicated not to desk space but to our Innovation Labs – three rooms where co-creation rules, laptops get to be laptops and people configure the room each hour to suit how they work together for that discussion. On the third floor we’re trialling “creative pods” in the middle of the floor where two people can go into a brainstorming cocoon. We’re even involving contemporary street artists to bring the walls alive.
It’s self-evident that collaboration and creativity is going to happen more easily in a vibrant, colourful, open environment than in a grey, tedious one rammed with desks. But still it seems that most of our creativity in offices is focused outside – on sleek, glass and steel exteriors. As the Shard brings another welcome change to the London skyline, we probably need to remember that the creative solutions to our current challenges are more likely to be dreamt up inside office buildings than outside.