What Makes a Creative Work Environment?

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It takes more than creative people to get the most of creativity in your workplace.  As you might guess, it takes non-creative people as well. Even then, you’ve only addressed the personnel side of the equation.  When we think of maximizing the benefits of creativity, we need to think about consciously building a creative work environment. 

Let’s take a look at some of the key components of that environment.

Intangible Elements of the Environment

Let’s look first to the intangible elements of the creative work environment. These include policies, practices, and values, as opposed to the physical environment itself. Within these elements, that empathy and employee-focused management are crucial.  

Creative Work Environments Celebrate their Employees

Robert Half argues that a creative workspace absolutely must celebrate people and their work. He cites research that indicates that while doing worthwhile work is the largest determiner of happiness for marketing and creative professionals, feeling appreciated for their work is a close second.

Half recommends encouraging team outings, message boards for celebrating accomplishments. And be sure to recognize employees for going above and beyond.  The creative work environment is a supportive one.

Creative Work Environments Reflect Employee’s Interests

In a similar vein, Half contends that the creative work environment should reflect employees’ interests, rather than what leadership may expect employees prefer.  “Creative staffers often come from different backgrounds, possess a wide range of skills and pursue a variety of activities outside work,” he points out. 

Let your team express themselves and celebrate the diversity of interests and personalities. When given this change, employees will feel more valued and happier at work.

Leaders Should Demonstrate Creativity Too

Los Silva encourages leaders to model creativity as much as they can. Even if a leader doesn’t think of herself as creative, expressing openness to creativity and gratitude for novel efforts and thinking can do wonders for a creative work environment.

Silva’s specific suggestion for leaders is to “refrain from making quick decisions unless time is of the essence”.  When there is time, leaders should get as much input from colleagues and employees as possible.  

Slowing down decision-making time makes the leader more likely to accept a creative or innovative response to a problem. They can assess the diversity of opinions that have been gathered. It also makes the creative team more comfortable giving those diverse opinions. They will come to believe their contributions will be received safely and sincerely.

Encourage Intellectual Debate

A final suggestion for the intangible elements of a strong creative work environment: encourage intellectual debate.  It’s crucial that employees feel free to express themselves and see their voice as valued, but it’s equally important that opposing viewpoints are allowed as well.  

Hearing seven different opinions is fantastic for approaching a decision with a diversity of ideas, but having two ideas that have been carefully, respectfully whittled down to their best forms through team debate can be even more powerful.  

The ‘respectful’ part of the previous sentence is mandatory; you certainly don’t want to encourage unpleasant arguments or create anxiety around self-expression for fear of aggressive debate. The ideal creative work environment contains healthy, polite debate of creative solutions, with all parties remembering that they’re working towards the same goal and are part of the same team.

Tangible Elements of the Environment

Office Space

Shifting gears towards the tangible elements of the creative workspace, H. Hendy Associates argues that a company should consider revising its office space as soon as the office design is not offering an edge over the competition.  

It might not always be easy to use this metric—it’s hard to be sure if your small office is or isn’t a factor in your success, especially early in an organization’s life when comparisons are harder to come by.  The concept does, however, make great sense in a more specific context: our interest in the creative work environment.

In a roundabout way, rethinking office environments based on an edge over the competition can be understood as rethinking office environments to better suit your creative personnel—because they will provide that edge.  So when you avoid the open-office design as Forbes and Fortune recommend, you increase productivity and focus of your creatives.  

Flexibility is Key in a Creative Workspace

When your creative staff is more comfortable and productive, they’ll bring more innovative ideas to the table more often.  Innovation keeps you ahead of the curve, in product development and much more; it’s the edge Hendy refers to.  They propose 150-180 feet of space per person (pre-pandemic figures) for optimal focus and productivity.

Gill Buchanan’s take on the physical workspace as a promoter of creativity is to make your workspace into an agile work environment.  These environments let “…employees work where they feel most productive and inspired, or which most suits the task they need to complete.”  

In other words, a strong creative environment doesn’t dictate the one and only use for each space, but instead lets the space serve creative needs.  If a creative employee is struggling with writer’s block, for example, an agile work environment would enable her to get away from her normal workspace and resituate herself by a window, or in a break area, or anywhere that was more conducive to the creative process.

Creativity needs some elasticity; when a creative is slowed or stopped by something, they need the ability to circumvent the stoppage and jumpstart their process.  An agile work environment is one of the best long-term solutions to creative needs. 

Awareness of How the Environment Is Working Allows for Adaptation

A creative work environment is a conscientious one.  It pays attention to what its employees need, celebrates their achievements, and promotes creativity at all levels, even if not all levels are expressly creative personnel.  It also encourages debate amongst its creative personnel to respectfully reach strong creative solutions.

Re-examining the physical environment itself can involve giving more space to employees, providing an agile workspace they can move through freely, and more.  It almost always leads to higher satisfaction and productivity amongst your creative staff and helps your business be more creative overall.

How creative of an environment is your workspace?  Has your organization already implemented any of these suggestions for a creative work environment?  Do any of them strike you as more useful than others?  What might you try first when it comes to redesigning your office environment?