Depending on the available space and access to technology, some creative teams are working in open concept spaces while some are compartmentalized in separate soundproof rooms. Open concept feels so team-like to outsiders, who see rows of friends wearing headphones staring at their screens and leave with the feeling that everyone is working together. Separate offices are something we have come to expect in the working world, so it doesn’t seem odd, but it does have a “corporate” feel.

The reality is that the friends sitting on that bench together are likely working on completely different projects, even if they are part of the same whole. They are trying to ignore the people to their right and left and focus as though they had their own soundproof room, which most studios simply can not afford. Some collaboration is unavoidable—they can literally see each other’s screens without even leaning to one side—but that can be a good thing, and the project benefits from the diversity of minds interacting on each step, even if only in brief moments between wishes for more personal space.

Those sitting in private offices have very little to complain about, but each piece of the project is only as good as the individual working on it, without the benefit of the accidental collaboration of a team setting that is often greater than the sum of its parts. Team members go into their cave alone and don’t develop the same report that they would have if they were forced to work closer together and the work is just a job.

What is ideal?

Most people don’t have the luxury of space planning—the walls are where they are—but the general idea can be applied to most spaces with some creativity:

Split the difference

There’s only so much space, and it can be divided into individual boxes or one great big box, but when you’re out of space, you’re out of space. Split the difference between the plans with smaller semi-private offices for two—more details below on that one—and a moderately sized common area where people can choose to work together. When they need utter silence to focus or they need to be able to control the lighting in the room to adjust the color appropriately, they have a cave to go to, but they aren’t confined to it, and on days or during activities that don’t require a cave, they are free to come out into the sunshine. This personal freedom boosts productivity, but it also means that collaboration is occurring between people who are coming together deliberately—their presence in the common space is an invitation to work together, so you’re never interrupting.

Shared privacy

There’s only so small an office can be before it’s actually a panic-inducing closet. Offices avoid the issue with cubicals—one great big room full of tiny pods of individual space. That’s an option—if people can work on one long bench there’s no reason they can’t work slightly more spread out in the same room, separated by carpet-lined panels—but if they may need a soundproof or light-controlled environment a cubical isn’t going to solve the problem.

Imagine an office that’s five feet by six feet with no windows. That’s not an office, it’s a cell, and it’s less spacious than the room granted to actual prisoners. However, imagine an office that’s five feet by twelve feet, with a built in desk on each end. The overall room can be soundproof and light-controlled, the back-to-back layout provides a sense of privacy for each while still close enough to collaborate in partnerships as needed, and the use of space per person remains the same, thus allowing more space for a common area without claustrophobia.

Design and Portability

Creativity doesn’t sit still. When you make creativity sit still, it wanders away. If your people do not have permission to wander with it, it will slip away from them, and they may or may not really be able to get it back in the moment. No one has the right to claim that their work isn’t done because they were artistically uninspired. That’s for amateurs. Professionals know that there are amazing days at work and days that are just work, but if the Muse didn’t wake up on the same side of the bed that they did, work still exists.

At the same time, there are known design factors that contribute to creativity and others known to stifle it. Think colors, curves and comfort, instead of colorless cloned cubicals. Harsh angles and harsh lighting are not helpful, grouping workstations in teams is. Studies have been done on the things that bring humans joy, including seeing large groups of things to imply abundance, and the effects of different colors, such as a calming blue or a vibrant orange. The work has already been done, it just need to be applied. If the flow and design of the office is light and colorful, with curved paths between clustered stations sitting under the mural of many dots, or shapes, or butterflies, the uplifting environment is a positive space that encourages creativity.

Common spaces can’t be used if the work isn’t at least somewhat portable. Many creative groups use laptop computers that are docked in their workspace so they can unplug and move to the sunroom and still be able to work. This will depend largely on the type of work being done but is possible for almost anyone. A conversation with an engineer is a great place to start. If team members are logging on to a shared storage system, they can even log on from home—the sunroom’s way closer than that.

Do you like coming to your office? If not, it needs to be fixed. You spend way too much time there. Of course you can’t just bring in a can of paint if you sit in a cubical, but if you can dream it up and bring it to the Powers That Be, you may be the voice that starts the change that makes your office feel more creative, and that benefits everyone.

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