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6 July 2017

HOK’s Kay Sargent Talks to BBC About Design That Promotes Workplace Creativity

Tech firm Valorem’s HOK-designed office demonstrates how lighting, color and alternative workspaces can influence employee productivity.

Excerpted from BBC.com:

Bambi George couldn’t have been happier when her company moved out of their small, sterile office into a larger building.

The previous headquarters of Valorem–a technology company based in Kansas City, Missouri – barely had any natural lighting and the walls were a stale grey. The new premises could not be more different. Its walls are covered in vibrant greens, yellows and blues, while natural light now filters into much of the space.

While it’s a more inviting place to work, George also thinks it’s made for a more creative and productive office. “It’s not only because of the space, but our people are coming with all sorts of crazy and innovative ideas,” says George, the company’s senior vice-president of operations.

Valorem’s break room features bright colors, natural light and collaboration spaces.

The idea that a simple relocation has got Valorem’s employees’ creative juices flowing is not as far fetched as it might first seem. There is a growing body of research that suggests lighting, wall color and even the height of the ceilings can have a big impact on the way we think. While cramped, open-plan offices may be an inexpensive way for companies to get more people in less space, these workspaces can sap our creativity.

“The office was designed for a manufacturing mindset, but most of the work we’re doing is knowledge work that values innovation and creativity,” says Kay Sargent, director of HOK’s WorkPlace practice. “People need to feel secure and comfortable so they can be free to be innovative and creative.” If those needs aren’t met, creativity can suffer, Sargent says.

Well-designed workplaces often create environments that make their employees better thinkers, often without even realizing they have done it. But some are now actively turning to the science to help free their workers’ minds.

Alternative workspaces promote creativity at Valorem as do greens and blues, which have been shown to spur the imagination.

Incorporating all of these hidden design elements means developing a variety of spaces in an office, so staff can find privacy if needed, but also work in areas for creative and analytical thinking, says Sargent.

For instance, a company might want to have one room with high ceilings where more creative work can get done and other room with lower ones where more hands-on tasks can get completed, she says.

At Valorem there are indeed different rooms for different kinds of work activities. While they haven’t gone as far as creating spots with different ceiling heights, some rooms have been designed as collaborative spaces and others for more concentrated work. Some have different colors on the walls to evoke different moods, says George.

Of course, office space isn’t the only contributor to creativity. Our colleagues, bosses and passion for our work all factor in as well. But our surroundings can give us a creative boost. For those who work in dreary spaces, adding plants to a cubicle or colorful photos on a desk can help get the juices flowing, says Sargent.

“It’s about creating a variety of spaces,” says Sargent. “We want to create environments that maximize the potential to be successful.”