Coolest or most collaborative?

March 21, 2017    Ann Clarke     ,

The Daily Telegraph recently published an article that named the ‘15 coolest offices in the world’.

These sorts of articles appear a few times each year – always focusing on the most creative spaces and always with the journalist marvelling at the use of colour and inclusion of ‘child-like’ features, but they rarely dig beneath the surface to ask why – what is the purpose of these spaces and how do they help the businesses that occupy them?

All of the businesses in the list, including Google, Lego, AirBandB and Red Bull, understand some simple rules about doing business in the modern age – they know the importance of standing out in a crowded market (after all we’re discussing their offices now) and the value of engaged and stimulated workforces.

Most of the businesses singled out by the Telegraph’s article are in the creative or gaming sectors and most of them are knowledge economy businesses. Ideas and innovation are the commodities of these businesses and so spaces that stimulate workers to have the best ideas have real tangible value. While that is, in part, achieved through colour and quirky features, it’s also about the fundamental make-up of these spaces. They’ve all been designed around two common strands – the first is purpose, the second is collaboration and sociability.

These offices support the work that is done there. They have a clear sense of purpose and the design of the office space supports that.

Hootsuite is a social media management company. Its business is based on improving the user experience of different social media platforms and designing new features. Teamwork and efficient decision making is integral to its offering and so its Vancouver office uses open plan workspaces and cosy meeting rooms to bring people together.

Google’s brightly coloured and futuristic feeling office includes free food, sleep pods and even a running track so that staff working working late or unsociable hours are always catered for. By removing outside distractions Google is giving its team little reason to leave and providing more opportunity for interaction between its people. It knows its strength lies in collaboration and the relationships between its people.

Mind Candy is a games company in London. Its office brings its core purpose to life – it promotes play. Write-able surfaces ensure that ideas can be captured wherever they happen, slides encourage playful movement around the office and themed meeting spaces support project teams as they develop new applications and characters. There is stimulation and interest at every turn.

As these examples prove, these businesses have recognised the huge power and value in supporting people coming together. As people work remotely and flexibly it’s important to have spaces that support collaboration when it’s needed and encourage sociability and chance encounters too. Today’s employees want to work for companies whose value and purpose they share and want to feel they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Culture, values and ethos can be brought to life through the spaces we occupy and so these standout office designs are helping to tell their individual company story and unite their people.

Steve Jobs is said to have been one of the first to understand the power of collaboration and the value of creative hub spaces when he brought all the team at Pixar into one office. By bringing the animators, computer scientists and others into one building, Pixar was able to harness the power of serendipitous meetings and planned collaboration with great effect. In his biography Steve said: “If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”

It’s easy to scoff at the use of a slide in an office, grass effect carpets or wooden hut meeting rooms in some offices but all of these things make it clear that collaboration, creativity, communication and conversation are the order of the day for knowledge economy businesses.

While the very nature of a ‘top 10 coolest’ anything is clearly subjective, the objective part of this story is in recognising that these quirky spaces exist because they serve a real purpose. They seek to motivate, inspire and engage. They support how work is done and encourage people to come together. They bring brand values to life, make for memorable, people-centric experiences and help businesses to standout.  You can decide whether you think they are the top 10 coolest for yourself but we certainly think they’re among some of the most collaborative and purposeful spaces in the world.

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