If you give people space to explore new ideas and collaborate, they’ll be more innovative. The good news is that you can do this without spending a lot of money. In this article, we’ll explore how to design an office workspace that sparks innovation.  

open office floor plan

1. Rethink Open Office Plans

It’s no secret that over the past 20 years, many companies have moved to open office plans. In fact, as of 2017, 70% of companies have open office plans. But, if there’s not enough privacy, employees and innovation can suffer. Donna Flynn, Director of Steelcase’s WorkSpace Futures, points out, “there’s mounting evidence that the lack of privacy is causing people to feel overexposed in today’s workplaces and is threatening people’s engagement and their cognitive, emotional and even physical well-being.” Certainly, if people feel this way, they’ll have a harder time collaborating and creating new solutions.

To drive innovation, give people places to work privately without interruption. A recent HBR article found that “the ideal space for focused work is not about freedom from noise, but about freedom from interruption.” This is why it can be easier to work in a coffee shop than in your open office space. When people can escape interruptions, they are more likely to explore new ideas and create solutions.

There are ways to rethink your open office space so that it delivers on innovation. The important thing is to balance the space so that people are able to do focused, independent work as well as high-energy collaboration. One expert suggests creating spaces to focus, interact, regenerate and ideate. Here are some examples of how you can create these spaces:

  • Create different zones: 1) quiet areas with individual workstations, 2) conference rooms for groups to meet formally, and 3) social areas such as a coffee shop or game room to meet more casually.
  • Add height-adjustable screens. With these screens, workers can create private space to focus and regenerate. Or, they can create shared space to interact and generate ideas.
  • Add movable or glass walls. These walls offer employees transparency and privacy.

We expect that open office plans will continue to be the standard office space. With some changes, they can be a place where people are engaged, motivated and creative.

2. Consider People’s Personalities

When designing our workspaces, we need to consider each of our organizational cultures. For example, a graduate of our creative thinking course told us an interesting story. Their R&D engineers walked around with their heads down in their phones and paperwork, avoiding eye contact with colleagues. To encourage the engineers to interact with each other, they moved to curved walls. In their new space, the engineers had to look up as they walked, or they would crash into a wall. Consequently, they were more likely to talk to each other in the hall. Often they shared ideas or addressed common issues. By considering their employees’ personalities, they found a way to encourage more interaction.

art that inspire innovation


3. Regularly Update Your Space

To stimulate creative thinking, constantly make simple changes to what people see. For example, change the art in your entrance. Or, change the screen image when people log into their computer. If you don’t update your space, it says “we were creative.” If you make changes, it says “we are creative.” 

4. Give People the Freedom and Flexibility to Use the Space

In the end, none of these strategies will work unless people use the space. We worked with a global biomedical engineering firm that installed a coffee shop. It was beautiful, and it had all of the latest technology. They hoped that people would go there to collaborate. Unfortunately, managers didn’t want their direct reports “away from their desks.” Consequently, employees did not use the coffee shop.

Seeing this, senior leaders encouraged employees to use the coffee shop. That is, they gave people the freedom and flexibility to use the coffee shop. When they did, the space really began to deliver on its promise. This combination of mindset and space allowed for a better overall culture within the organization. And, the coffee was really great too!

Create an Office that Fosters Innovation

To design a space that fosters innovation, you don’t need to spend a lot of money. You do need to: 1) give people space to focus, collaborate, regenerate and ideate, 2) consider your organization’s culture, 3) regularly update your space, and 4) encourage everyone to use it. Strive to do these and you’ll create a space that fosters innovation.


This article is one in a series that explores the 12 strategic action areas organizations need to consider when building a culture of innovation. Learn more about building an innovation culture.



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