Have the Right Space

Earlier this summer the Designing Leaders team had a chance to visit a major creative technology firm in Shenzhen, China. Being such a large company you might expect them to have a pretty large, and they did. In fact, they had 8 of them. As we drove from the building for our meeting to the one where we would make a presentation, we realized this all felt like a university campus.

“That’s what we’re going for,” said our host, “and it’s nice to hear we succeeded.”

From what we could see the firm employs a lot of young Creatives who looked like they were still in university: dressed casually, hanging out in the open greenspaces around the campus (yes, that’s what they called it too), or meeting up in one of the many small restaurants placed strategically throughout the complex. Here in Asia, the most successful leaders are looking beyond the traditional style of work to try to find the right environment — both physical and personal — to turn a creative spark into a roaring flame.

We see that among big companies in the US, of course; Google has a great campus and Apple is opening its new headquarters that looks like a spaceship. But you don’t have to be big, and you don’t need a major facility; whether you have 6,000 employees, or 6, you should be thinking about creating the right physical environment for your employees to be innovative and collaborative.

If you emphasize individual work, you need to give people the space to be by themselves and focus; even though the trend is away from individual offices, such an office might be the best option, but even just having a spot where they can step away from the crowd and contemplate would be helpful. If your work is team-focused, have individual desks close to each other, but then have some small meeting rooms available; pulling the team in there suggests a mental shift from what we all do individually to what we bring together collectively. When you set out your coffee and (healthy) snack space, arrange it in a way that people have to cross paths and interact to get to it, rather than making a beeline from their cube to the coffee and back again (and maybe put a white board in there, too). If you have different teams separated on the floor, try to put your break room in a place where people from those different teams will naturally converge.

Virtual space is as important as physical space when it comes to dispersed colleagues. If you have people all over the place, or you’re bringing together the efforts of various free agents, have the right tech support — whether Skype or Zoom or a teleconferencing room or social media platforms, whatever — to give people the “space” they need in which to function.

So whether it’s a university campus wannabe or a well-placed coffee room, make sure your employees have the space they need to be their most creative and come up with new ideas to make you more successful. Since, you know, that’s why you have them.

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