Innovation in the Workplace?

An innovative working environment by RAAAF & Barbara Visser

In a world where businesses increasingly focus on the creative and innovative output of their employees. The spotlight is well and truly on workplace design as an instigator for creating more inspiring environments that foster a greater sense of culture, community and collaboration to increase both productivity and innovation.

The big corporates seem to be learning fast that they lag someway behind in this endeavour and that innovation and creative output from small start ups is far outpacing anything coming out of the big corporates despite the budgets and backing large organisations have at their disposal. The evidence for this is large corporates are increasingly trying to emulate the world of small tech start-ups. I recently read that DBS have started holding Hackathons and how many of the big corporates now build so called “Garage Spaces” for new projects and teams that focus on innovation and developing new products or services. The creation of these “Garage Spaces” is in itself an admission that Innovation and creative thinking cannot take place in the average office environment.

In Singapore the interest in workplace design is becoming more and more mainstream with regular features in the daily newspapers so Singaporeans clearly take an interest in their working environment. Companies are also exploiting this interest to assist in recruitment. These articles for the most part present companies working environments in a positive light with pretty pictures of the cool café, the interesting reception and funky meeting spaces. The problem is these articles lie where are the pictures of the actual workspace? The unfortunate truth is that the images of the workspaces aren’t shown because they are pretty boring and uninspiring, they will have a standard base build grid ceiling and bleak base building fluorescent lighting. For the most part they will have a fairly basic grey carpet and of course they will have rows and rows of desks the current trend is for predominantly white desks.

There appears to be a myth brewing, that our workplaces are becoming more intresting and innovative with the tech giants leading the way and unveiling new offices in Singapore with the media featuring these in articles such as the following

There is some truth to this myth in that employers are now providing more variety and better amenities in the workplace. And designers try hard to make the space more aesthetically interesting. Unfortunately that is where the creativity seems to stop the actual working environment where staff spend on average 40-60% of their time is still pretty uninspiring for the most part. I also question the degree of Innovation in the design of these workplaces, while the social and collaborative areas all look pretty is there anything really innovative about them? Does the pantry/cafe in a leading social media office really look that different to the one in a conventional bank? Sadly the answer is not really.

The question then arises if we live in a world where the average person cares greatly about the environment they work in and Businesses realise the need for innovation and creativity in many aspects of what they do. Why are we not in the midst of a workplace revolution with where we work changing beyond recognition just like the way we engage with technology has? The problem lies with the teams responsible for workplaces, the facilities and corporate real estate teams. The Irony is in many cases that the people setting the briefs and commissioning new workplaces are outsourced individuals, seconded in from large real estate corporations. For the most part they will have worked most of their lives in a very conventional corporate environment and culture so how are they well placed to lead the revolution? The result is that there is very little innovation in workplace design it becomes difficult to tell the difference between the working environment of a traditional financial institution or a so called Innovative future focused tech company, why?  Because they are all essentially large corporates the people commissioning and designing their workplaces are from the same stock most probably even the same company. Where are the creatives and the innovators where are the design teams that are not afraid to take risks to do things differently and more importantly the where are the clients that are prepared to invest in taking risks with their workplaces?

Innovation In The Workplace
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