Steve Jobs designed the Pixar building with the bathrooms in the center. Fisher-Price has a dedicated space, the Cave, where designers, engineers, and marketers meet to build prototypes of toys from foam, cardboard, glue, and acrylic paint. And Google allows its software engineers, the core of its intellectual capital, to design their own desks and write on the walls.
Why do these companies spend significant time and resources on designing and configuring physical space?
They each understand how space impacts communication, innovation, and productivity.
Jobs realized that when you design your workspace around chance encounters, big, bold ideas happen. Fisher-Price knows that space dedicated to innovation is essential if it wants to continuously produce blockbuster toys with staying power. And Google operates under the assumption that when we design our own space, we access the intersection of our personal intellect and personal productivity.
Engaged, productive employees don’t work in a vacuum. They need diverse workspaces that help them bring out the best in themselves, where energy and inspiration can flow freely.
So, what can you do to shape your physical workspace so that it works for you?
Think about your role and the core accountabilities of your position. Are you the leader of a large team who spends 90% of the day in meetings? Are you a designer in a marketing firm who spends the majority of your day discussing ideas with clients? Or are you an outside sales representative whose office is really a car? The types of work that you do inform how you design, set up, and work in your space.
Once you have identified the core accountabilities of your position, organize your space into specific, dedicated zones based on types of work. In each zone include all of the resources and equipment that you need for that specific type of work.
For example, I spend a significant portion of my day on the phone coaching clients. I have a dedicated coaching space in my home office with a comfortable chair, a power outlet for my phone, and a small writing surface where I can take notes. Everything I need to perform the task of coaching has a specific place and the space is designed to optimize the performance of this task.
We all have different work styles. For example, some of your colleagues have never had a single piece of paper on their desks, and other colleagues haven’t seen the surface of their desk in years. Answer the following questions to customize your space based on your work style:
What aesthetic qualities do you prefer?
- Clean, functional lines
- Ample, high-wattage lighting
- Warm colors and soft lighting
- Space to spread out, draw, create, or dream
How do you prefer to work?
- A combination?
What organizational tools and office supplies do you prefer?
- Filing cabinets or open baskets and containers?
- Manila file folders or colored file folders?
- Electronic task management tools or whiteboards?
- Colored pens and Post-it notes or legal pads and notebooks?
Beware of the temptation to select furniture and tools just because your colleagues are using them. One size does not fit all when it comes to your space and your personal productivity. Be selective and stand firm in your choices. The goal is to ensure that the space you work in aligns to your work style and enables you to feel energized and be productive.
For many of us, especially those who work in a corporate environment, we must deal with restrictions on our workspaces. There may be rules about the size and shape of cubicles, offices, the types of furniture and fixtures permitted, and the colors of the walls. However, you can work with the realities of your workspace. Here are a few suggestions:
- Get creative. A client wanted to be able to periodically stand to complete work. A standing desk was not an option, so he raised the shelf on his company issued bookshelf. He now stands and responds to email on his laptop.
- If ambient noise is a problem, consider using noise-reducing headphones. Or if you need noise, use the same headphones with music of your choice.
- If the overhead lighting is too harsh or sterile, bring in a small lamp. If you need more light, clip a book reading light to your laptop.
- If the colors or textures of the walls are distracting, hang a poster or artwork.
Don’t let space restrictions impede your productivity and effectiveness. Innovate, get creative, and make the space constraints work for you, not against you. Space matters.