How to encourage innovation in the workplace

Workplace design plays an increasingly significant role in spurring innovation. Here’s how you can get the most out of it. 

The Leesman Index, which examines the effect workplaces have on employees, found that the highest performing workplaces create environments that capitalize on existing knowledge within the organization and facilitate internal knowledge transfers.

Such organizations utilize diverse spaces such as atriums, open team space meetings, private areas to create communities, facilitate collaboration and create serendipitous encounters.

Creating flexible and varied spaces within an organization allows for a multitude of tasks to be performed in a varying setting. Coupled with policies that encourage self-directed research, flexible spaces can lead to several innovations and inventions.

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The use of space can facilitate knowledge transfers

There are two factors that affect knowledge transfers in a workplace; 1) Movement around a building and 2) co-presence (the number of people you can see from your desk).

Spontaneous collisions, chance encounters and unplanned interactions between knowledge employees, both inside and outside of the organization improve performance.

Such collisions often spark innovations and are referred to as the Water Cooler Effect. When we bump into one another in shared offices or learning spaces we are inclined to chat, it is through such interactions that knowledge is transferred and created.

Communication positively fosters innovation

Physically mixing people in space gives new reasons for people to communicate and connect. Both are important precursors to collaboration and innovation.

In an experiment by Sociometric Solutions, thousands of sociometric badges were deployed in workplaces. The badges captured interaction, communication, and location information. The experiment found that face-to-face interactions are the most important activity in an office. The probability for people in an organization to communicate effectively dissipates beyond 10 meters. Therefore, people have a greater tendency to communicate face-to-face when information is of a complex nature.

Yet, as with everything – the key to success in the workplace is to strike the perfect balance between open, inspiring areas that support communication and collaboration – and quiet spaces designed for individual and concentrative work.

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Workplace design must be deliberate and strategic to inspire innovation and creativity

To inspire and facilitate creativity and innovation, workplace design must be deliberate and strategic. Companies must design customized solutions, rather than adopting the latest trends in office design, which could have the opposite effect of the intended action.

For example, to improve productivity and increase interaction, a large furniture manufacturer transformed its headquarters into an open plan office with unassigned seating.

While interactions increased, the energy levels and the number of individual encounters during the day dropped.

Once employees arrived at their workstation, they did not leave their spots. To find the most effective solutions, organizations can combine digital communication patterns with physical space and increase the probability of interactions that lead to innovation and productivity.

Once a company has identified the patterns it is trying to achieve and how the pattern affects outcomes, it can design the workplaces to achieve those outcomes.