Cubicles are rapidly going the way of the hoverboard—out of style and up in flames. Scrappy startups and enterprise giants alike are throwing out traditional ideas of what offices look like and going more modern, replacing them with the creative office designs that foster collaboration.
Why? Because mountains of research show that collaboration drives productivity, creativity, and innovation. Studies from Nielsen and Frost & Sullivan have found that collaboration drives good ideas and company performance, respectively. Echoing those sentiments, Singapore International Chamber of Commerce chief executive Victor Mills said in an interview, “The fastest way any company can innovate is to collaborate.”
Mills also cited the winners of last year’s Most Transformational Collaboration award: HP Inc., Mega Plus Technology and Super Park Manufacturing—who collaborated to create an automated packaging process for HP’s ink products at a lower cost. Recognising the importance of collaboration, the Singapore government recently launched SGInnovate, a deep-tech focused collaboration centre—built on the idea that “proximity breeds innovation.”
Today’s most successful, innovative businesses recognise the connection between office design and collaboration. In this brave new world, there are no rules—just a dedication to creating spaces in which people actually enjoy working. Let’s take a look at the five creative office designs transforming the way people work.
Google tops the best creative office design list. From its earliest days, Google has proclaimed its goal to “create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world.” The company’s office is known for being wacky, open, and filled with everything an employee could need (i.e., on-premise haircuts).
All these perks, as well as the architecture and design of the office, are designed to cultivate a casual atmosphere engineered to maximise “casual collisions of the workforce.” The layout of bent rectangles means no employee is ever more than a short walk away from another or more than 45 metres from food. Common spaces, like snack kitchens, provide ample opportunity for employees to collide, probably over organic gummy bears.
Google rigorously tracks the impact of these workplace features through “people analytics,” which analyses leadership, performance, retention, and more. As a result of these efforts, Google consistently ranks as one of the best places to work in the world, and the appreciation of its stock has broken records.
In 1999, Steve Jobs redesigned Pixar’s offices to inspire as much serendipity and as many “unplanned collaborations” as possible. He brought all the teams—computer scientists, animators, executives, and editors—together in one building with a central atrium. The atrium enabled employees from different disciplines to cross-pollinate and have conversations that may not have happened otherwise.
Many of the offices in Pixar’s building are arranged in U-shaped units, consisting of five to six individual offices around a central common area. Every employee has their own space, decked out with all the tech they need, enabling them to efficiently get their work done while also engaging easily with their teammates.
In addition, the Pixar campus has an amphitheater, gardens, a pool, sports courts, and more that encourage employees to be active. Research from Stanford indicates that creative thinking improves when people are moving around. Pixar, with all its outdoor space, is the perfect place to hold walking meetings, which Jobs famously swore by.
Mark Zuckerberg is another known devotee of the walking meeting, so it’s no surprise Facebook’s new, 40,000 square metre Menlo Park complex includes a rooftop garden with a half-mile walking loop. The company’s office in Singapore is impressive, as well—it even has a treadmill with a view of Singapore’s skyline. In a Facebok post, Zuckerberg wrote that his aim with the “largest open floor plan in the world” was to create a sense of community and connection.
Facebook’s office designs are effective, because they strike a balance between openness and privacy. While open floor plans have become standard for most tech companies, too much openness can make it hard to get work done. To strike this balance, Facebook’s office is filled with nooks and crannies where employees can find quiet places to collaborate. The company also installed touch screens called Wayfinders that help employees find their coworkers in the vast space, and wires hang from the ceilings so as not to obstruct the path of anyone who may walk by.
Airbnb’s new Singapore office comes with cafe-like pantries, 13 meeting rooms themed after actual Airbnb listings, hidden meeting rooms, reading nooks, big open spaces, and even a graffiti wall.
All these meeting spaces are essential to fostering collaboration. Nooks and breakout rooms near common areas give employees who have chance encounters places to continue their conversation. Moreover, Airbnb employees are encouraged to switch teams or contribute to areas beyond the scope of their team when it suits their interests. To this end, Airbnb has created a “belong anywhere working environment,” meaning all work spaces and IT setups can easily adapt to employees who move around a lot.
The company’s approach is succeeding. Engagement scores show that 90 percent of Airbnb employees recommend Airbnb as a great place to work, and last summer, Airbnb’s growth was 353 times what it was five years ago.