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Business management

Six ways to make your workspace more creative

Creative employees find answers to problems of every shape and size; finding ways to spruce up the office can significantly boost your team’s thinking and productivity.

Conversely, only 11% of those questioned believed their current practices aligned perfectly with those of companies that were recognised for their creativity.In other words, bosses know creativity is desirable but they’re not sure how to get there – and neither has it been made a priority.

One way to boost creativity is to build a workspace that subtly – or not so subtly – nudges your team into a more blue-sky frame of mind the second they walk in. Many businesses employ tactics of this nature, and most are easy and inexpensive to emulate.

Food for thought

People love food, especially when it’s free, says Seb Royle, founder of Brighton-based collaborative workspace provider PLATF9RM. “Google has invested heavily in giving employees constant snacking opportunities,” he says, “and it relates to Steve Jobs’ theory that random encounters create great ideas.” At PLATF9RM there are multiple companies and freelancers in one place, and while there are quiet and private zones, Royle says they like to get people connecting with each other. Food is the perfect conduit for this. With free fruit, biscuits and snacks available to members, the PLATF9RM cafe and kitchen are “a constant hotbed of chatter and subconscious networking”.

Last week, says Royle, he overheard two new co-workers quietly sharing a joke over some cake that had been provided. “One is a website developer and one a writer, and they’re now working together on a brand-new project,” says Royle, pointing out that the cake was the catalyst.

Expect to pay: as little as £10 a day if your team’s a small one.

A room with a view

Experts agree that getting outdoors and changing your working environment is a great way to stimulate creative thoughts, but when that’s not possible, you can fake it instead. Kerri Walker, who runs a PR and content marketing agency in Hampshire, reckoned a wall-size depiction of an ocean view would prove inspirational. “It’s the perfect backdrop for conference calls and it’s great for motivating me and my team,” says Walker, who adds that they sometimes even add cocktails and pretend they’re in warmer climes for team meetings. “The backdrop transports me to a magical place in my mind that leads to creative thoughts,” she says.

Expect to pay: from around £35.

Petal power

A study by the University of British Columbia in Canada found that different colours do different things to the brain. Blue was especially effective in boosting creativity, with participants producing twice the number of outputs compared to when they were exposed to red. Given that connecting to nature can also improve creativity, blue flowers seem a good bet. Says Anisa Lewis of coaching company Parenting Success: “We bought some high-end faux flowers, and they are a great way not just to brighten up the office but also to stay inspired. I find the colours really enticing, and they seem to open up new avenues of thought when I most need them.”

Expect to pay: Lewis’s long-lasting flowers from Deluxe Blooms start from £9 a stem.

Although it was born of necessity, painting the whole office, including the fridge, with chalk paint has really lifted the workspace, and everyone gets involved

Emmi Nicholl
Chief operating officer at Crowdsurfer
Building blocks

The more you can amass the better, but Lego is not just for playing with when staff have downtime; Natalie Sutton, a certified Lego Serious Play professional, says the ubiquitous plastic bricks can unlock creative thoughts that are useful to your business. Companies in all sectors, from telecoms to law, have hired Sutton for workshops, and she says that by breaking down hierarchical structures and getting everyone involved, results frequently outdo expectations. “Think about your real business challenges and ask your team to build answers to those questions,” says Sutton. “Then, importantly, have everyone tell that story through metaphor using their model. The bricks serve as a common language and create an environment where everyone builds and everyone contributes.”

Expect to pay: from £50 and upwards.

Chalk it up to experience

When Cambridge-based data intelligence firm Crowdsurfer moved into its new office, managers wanted to find a way to capture the team’s ideas With space at a premium, there was little room for whiteboards – instead, they decided to paint the office – all of it – with chalk paint in various shades of grey. Says CEO Emmi Nicholl: “Although it was born of necessity, painting the whole office, including the fridge, with chalk paint has really lifted the workspace, and everyone gets involved.” The team painted the office together over beers and pizza, and now Nicholl says there’s not a day goes by without someone jotting or drawing something on whichever surface takes their fancy. “This can range from ideas to detailed diagrams from the techies, as well as plenty of silly drawings of and for each other,” she says.

Expect to pay: about £200 for an average-size workspace.

Packing a bucket and spade

If budgets extend to it and there’s a particular concept you think will inspire the staff, creating a themed office can help employees feel they’re somewhere more special than a drab box on an industrial estate. Think Kerri Walker’s ocean-themed wall – only multiplied by 10. “We wanted to create a workspace that was bright, airy and flexible and a seaside vibe enabled us to do that,” says John French, MD digital marketing agency Fat Media, which has offices in Lancaster, London and Bristol. “Our beach huts provide the perfect space for internal meetings and our ‘barrel bar’ offers a creative space for more people to collaborate.”

Expect to pay: about £500 for a beach hut; the sky’s the limit for accessories.

Creativity on a shoestring

Here are four quick fixes for the office from creativity expert Claire Bridges, founder of training company Now Go Create.

  1. Buy an egg timer: use it to add a frisson of excitement to creative exercises. Doing tasks at speed can bypass your inner critic.
  2. Download the Headspace app. You get 10 beginners’ sessions for free, and meditation is proven to aid creative thought.
  3. Burn an aromatherapy candle at your desk, or sniff peppermint essential oil in a brainstorm. It’s said to boost energy and promote concentration.
  4. Switch your phone to flight mode for 20 minutes, then get away from your desk and see what happens.

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