Doubling down to build creative spaces in the age of remote working

Creativity often flourishes when people are together in the same place, but technology solutions can help whether at home or company headquarters

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, workspaces sought to maximise innovation and collaboration by introducing communal spaces, breakout areas, brainstorming pods and the like. Now remote or location-independent working has become more widespread, how can organisations ensure their offices remain a lightning rod for creativity?

It’s a puzzle that business leaders must urgently tackle. According to Nespresso research, over a third (34 per cent) of large enterprise businesses see themselves utilising co-working and collaborative spaces in the future. Organisations need to double down and make offices inviting, comfortable and collaborative spaces.

“Businesses can’t assume employees will flood back to the office in the long term,” says Rebecca Tully, managing director of inclusion and diversity at Accenture in the UK and Ireland. “Employees are increasingly looking for more flexibility from their employer. As such, the onus is on business leaders to rebuild trust with its employees when it comes to returning to the office, ensuring the environment is both safe and beneficial for them.”

Dr Susan Lund, partner at McKinsey Global Institute, says the tasks needed to be performed in an office have changed irreversibly because of the rise of remote working, the ubiquity of good wifi connectivity and the capabilities of tech devices. It is arguably more efficient for practical, task-based work to be performed at home. Meanwhile, creative and collaborative work is best done in the office.

“I can answer an email or write something from anywhere,” says Lund. “When people go into the office now they are not going to be sitting at desks in cubicles. The office, however, is important for creativity and collaborating, and also bringing on board and training new colleagues. The same is true for making business-critical decisions, serious negotiations and forming new relationships.”

In-office cross-pollination of ideas

Nicola Mendelsohn, vice president, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), at Facebook, concurs. “When I started my career, I would dream that one day I’d get the big corner office on the eighth floor, but that’s no longer the case,” she says. “The spaces we have to co-create, to ideate, to bring people together need to be even bigger than they were before the coronavirus pandemic.”

Future smart technologies will soon be harnessed by workplaces to provide personalised environments able to be altered seamlessly from one mode to another

While existing physical offices are widely considered to be vital for collaboration, Adam Steel, strategic foresight editor at The Future Laboratory, believes these buildings might evolve to become what he calls “rotation offices”. He explains: “These spaces, owned by multiple companies but used by one at a time for weekly or monthly face-to-face meetings, would help employees retain a degree of tactile humanness with colleagues, resulting in a cross-pollination of ideas.

“Beyond design, future smart technologies will soon be harnessed by workplaces to provide personalised environments able to be altered seamlessly from one mode to another.”

It’s already something the workforce expects, according to research from Aruba Networks that reveals almost three quarters (72 per cent) of people think the future workplace should automatically adjust and update itself.

Companies that embrace these concepts, using technology to usher workers to take breaks in social spaces and encourage conviviality, will likely experience a boost in productivity too,” says Steel.

ComRes research demonstrates the impact social spaces can have on overall efficiency, with two thirds of workers (67 per cent) feeling more productive after a coffee break.

Steel adds: “Being based around conviviality, the bleeding edge between workspace and hospitality space is a natural one and will also inspire a new wave of hospitality-focused brands to develop their own co-working spaces, enabling the creations of connections between employees, fostering collaboration and creativity.”

Investing in collaboration tools

Thankfully for businesses whose headquarters are not co-working spaces, technology is making it easier to innovate as part of a dispersed team. “Collaboration solutions that foster productivity, from online meetings and videoconferencing, to instant messaging and content-sharing, can be used to maintain a high level of collaboration between employees and facilitate creativity, regardless of their location,” says Sion Lewis, vice president, EMEA, for remote IT specialists LogMeIn.

“We are likely to see an increasing number of IT professionals adopting artificial intelligence in their workflow to make their collaboration efforts smarter and more efficient.”

More than ever though, the office is vital for generating innovation. And remote workers should be encouraged to head in for meetings regularly, says Lee Penson, founder of PENSON, the innovative commercial architectural firm behind Google’s famous inflatable office space. He believes the office “needs to be somewhere that caters for all teams to support their creativity, whether it’s in-house or remotely”, he says.

“The simplicity of taking a group call on FaceTime with colleagues and the progress of conferencing on the move has developed significantly. These innovations join people together in the most basic way. But spaces are still facilitators for unlocking creativity for people and businesses; the cross-pollination of ideas between people happens when they’re together,” says Penson.

Lewis concludes: “Technology is an enabler, not the end-goal, for creativity. It removes the barriers of geographies, time zones and accessibility, and creates a limitless space where people and their creativity can flourish. Ultimately, tech enables us to drive innovation, wherever we are in the world.”

This article – sponsored by Nespresso – first appeared on Raconteur’s Return to the Workplace for SMEs report in March 2021

Published by

Oliver Pickup

Multi-award-winning writer, content editor, ghostwriter, and TV and radio commentator (and occasional illustrator), specialising in technology, blockchain, startups, business, sport and culture. Founder of Pickup Media Limited. Interviewer of death row prisoners, legendary athletes, influential leaders, tech trendsetters, and cultural pioneers. By-lined in every English newspaper. Contributor to dozens of multinational publications.

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