When I was a student (once upon a time I thought I was to be a clinical psychologist), and broke, and spending time in New York City (also about the time I decided I was not to be a performing artist, choreographer for my career after spending years here doing so), I used to make extra money volunteering for psychological studies at Columbia University. I arrived one day and was told to wait in a small room for the study to start. The room started to fill up with other people, also waiting, until it was jammed and people were sitting on the floor shoulder to shoulder. Things got testy, arguments broke out, there was jostling. After 45 minutes the researchers came in and announced that the study was over: they had been measuring how we reacted when we were crowded into a small space.
I love this story from my past because it perfectly illustrates the power of our environment to influence our mood and actions. Anyone who has ever worked in a fluorescent-lit, gray-carpeted cubicle wasteland knows exactly what I’m talking out. It’s depressing, deadening, and you feel like the bosses don’t really care about your comfort and wellbeing. That is no way to design a 21st century company. In this economy, talent is your most valuable asset. And talented people don’t want to work in a soul-killing office space. They’ll take their special gifts elsewhere, thank you.
Well-designed office spaces ignite creativity, create team collaboration, and drive peak performance. They show respect, lift our souls and make people want to dig deep and give their all. Your workspace is a physical manifestation of your leadership culture. Make it unique.
How can you make your space a dynamic part of your vision and mission, and a driver of success? Here are 5 habits and how to make this happen:
1.) Think urban. Cities are hotbeds of creativity and enterprise for a reason. People are social beings, and cities provide the perfect balance of inspiration, contact, and privacy. Provide spaces for all of these: kitchens are great places for folks to hang out and connect (and share ideas on current projects). Outdoor space gives a sense of freedom and possibility, and contact with nature is always enlivening. Cities surprise us with their diversity and spontaneity. Celebrate everyone’s idiosyncrasies by encouraging them to decorate their personal spaces with pictures, objects and toys that make them feel at home. The goal here is to create a buzzing microcosm of urban energy in your workplace.
2) Keep it moving. Sitting at a desk all day is a downer. It’s stagnant and unhealthy and breeds lethargy and eyestrain. Encourage people to move around, to take the stairs, to go out for a short walk. Have a yoga, stretching, exercise room. Have informal work areas, couches and chairs with plenty of nearby power outlets. Make conference rooms available to everyone for meetings, even one-on-ones and informal brainstorming sessions.
3) Play at work. Put in a ping-pong table, foosball, Legos and other games. They are great for building bonds, relieving tension, engaging in playful competition, and renewing our psyches. We all hit a wall at work now and then — a quick game can be the play that refreshes.
4) Bon appetit! Coffee shops like Starbucks SBUX +0.09% and Peet’s have become embedded in our culture and psyche. They are defacto town squares, places where employees can hang out, grab a bite, do a little texting, work, flirt, have fun, whatever – you get the idea. Consider creating one in your workspace. Design it to be comfortable, warm and welcoming. Serve healthy food at great prices. People love getting a good deal, and having a coffee shop at work makes everyone feel like they’re part of the bigger world. And work inevitably gets done over those mochaccinos.
5) One size fits no one. Some of the most talented people in the world are introverts who like to be left alone to work their magic. Other talented people thrive with almost constant contact and stimulation. You want to design a space that is yielding and flexible – and has room for all personality types to thrive. So while you’re creating a vital environment that encourages connections, make sure there are quiet spaces where talent can go and work in peace.
Great design nurtures talent. It’s as simple as that. Look around at your workspace. How can you make your culture a talent magnet?
A version of this post was first published on Forbes.com
Image credit: Google Inc. – Office Hamburg, DEU