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Every day, companies in St. Louis and around the world are focused on increasing innovation in their organizations. Buzzwords and phrases like, “bold thinking,” “big ideas” and “discovery” have become embedded in corporate mission statements and company culture. However, talking about innovation is just one step; organizations truly making headway in this effort are also designing their workplaces to make it happen.
In order to best instill an innovative company culture, companies need to understand how the design of their office spaces can spur creative thinking, collaboration and action. It’s not enough to simply find an empty room and re-name it a think tank or hacker space. Motivating innovative spirits requires concrete strategies and intentional efforts – and there’s no singular solution.
Interestingly, as companies look to infuse innovation into their workplace, many of them are beginning to adopt design ideas from other industries like education, science and startups in Silicon Valley. This shift recognizes that design strategies for innovation aren’t specific to one market and best practices can be applied to any organization. Below is a look at several industries that can teach any organization a strategy or two on how to catalyze innovation.
Education: Bring Different Disciplines Together for Idea-Sharing
If you’re looking to accelerate creative ideas, then you don’t ask individuals to problem solve on their own. While there’s always a need for individual work time, the big ideas that grow businesses and change our world will often also require constant collaboration across multiple teams and individuals.
Education facilities across the country are embracing this idea of balancing individual and collaborative space in unique to purposely connecting students in new ways. Two specific examples, include:
Missouri State University’s (MSU) O’Reilly Clinical Health Sciences Center unites previously separated undergraduate and graduate curriculum across occupational therapy, nursing, nurse anesthesia and physician assistant studies to help students think about human health on a broader scale and link new ideas from multiple disciplines. Collaborative spaces flow throughout the building to form a community space that further advances valuable peer-to-peer learning.
At University of Utah, their new Lassonde Studios is bringing a similar approach to entrepreneurial education. This first-of-its-kind facility merges a residence hall with a 24/7 entrepreneurial garage in which students can access 3D printers, prototype labs, co-working space and abundant cutting-edge technology. The facility encourages students from all different class levels and disciplines to live together in the facility to strengthen innovation. It is literally the space where students live, learn and launch companies.
Breakthrough facilities that connect students in these new ways enrich the overall academic experience and improve output. These same principles of collaboration can apply to workplaces of all scale and type. It’s important that workplaces are designed to bring people together, at any time, for planned and impromptu conversations. This doesn’t mean eliminating every wall in the workplace, but it does recognize that organizations need to seek out workplace solutions that purposely bring people together, eliminate traditional silos and encourage collaboration to achieve new ideas for business success.
Silicon Valley Start-Up Culture: Give Employees Freedom, Flexibility and Choice
Many of today’s most innovative companies (Google, Under Armour, Apple, etc.) were launched from remarkably un-innovative spaces like garages and basements. While none of these spaces were intentionally designed to increase innovation and creativity, they fueled innovative ideas that went on to change the world. While there are many ways these spaces inspired this innovation, one key attribute is their ability to promote flexibility, freedom and choice. At startups, employees are often able to work as they see fit: They can stand for phone calls, go for a walking meeting outside or close all the doors for focused work.
Larger organizations are beginning to model this approach to work with the design of their new corporate workplaces. Roche Diagnostics recently opened a new 200,000 sf office building in Indianapolis that fully supports a mobile workforce. In the office building, employees are assigned to neighborhoods, but not a specific desk. These neighborhoods allow people to still have a home base and identity, but also provide the variety of spaces, flexibility and technology to empower them to use whatever workplace setting they need, when they need it across the building. Infused with a strategic combination of neighborhoods, offices, open work spaces, focus rooms, and team areas, the building is designed to help employees collaborate, connect and innovate by choosing the best space to work given their task at hand.
Promoting employee flexibility and choice doesn’t necessarily require extensive space or capital. Everything from corporate headquarters to cluttered garages can offer this to employees in ways that speak to them. Organizations simply need to find the right balance and provide the right technology for their workforce.
Science: Prepare for Anything
One undeniable truth is that whether organizations create it on their own or not, innovation is constant. New technologies, services and processes are always introducing new market pressures and realities organizations must accommodate. In the hyper-competitive world of business, inability to adapt can often lead to obsolesce.
Several science and healthcare organizations are ahead of the curve when it comes to planning for this constant change by leveraging a “universal grid” approach in their facility design. Facilities designed with the universal grid – an optimum set of vertical and horizontal dimensions – have proved almost infinitely adaptable to changes in science, technology and/or medical practice over time.
Similarly, the aforementioned Lassonde Studios project is designed on a flexible grid system that empowers the university to reconfigure rooms and expand the garage as students’ needs change. “Our goal is five years after (Lassonde Studios) opens, that it’ll be an entirely different-looking building,” said Troy’ D’Ambrosio, executive director of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute. “Universities usually build something that lasts 50 to 100 years, but when you’re an entrepreneur, things change rapidly.”
While the universal grid and/or flexible system at Lassonde are specific to those institutions, organizations need to find their own approach to creating highly-adaptable and flexible real estate. In doing so, they ensure they can both accommodate and accelerate innovation long into the future.
In today’s competitive marketplace, businesses can’t simply adopt innovation as a buzzword. Instead, they need to look to these design strategies outlined above and others to help them make it a reality in their organization moving forward.
All photos courtesy of Cannon Design.