According to a recent study conducted by furniture brand Haworth, offices can only facilitate creative thinking if they offer spaces for both focused work and restorative activities. The research shows that two very different types of workplace behaviour are needed to foster innovation; one is the more concentrative mode of working, whether alone or in a group, and the other includes more restful activities, which create opportunities for insight.

By looking at how employee’s brains function, the researchers concluded that companies need to provide different spaces to suit both modes of thinking if they want their workforce to achieve their full potential.

“Offices tend to promote only one kind of work,” explained Beck Johnson, a member of Haworth’s research and innovation team. “They are either open and collaborated or highly segmented. It’s about finding the right balance between those two types of spaces while also providing spaces for respite.”

The team recently released a white paper titled Optimizing the Workplace for Innovation: Using Brain Science for Smart Design, which looks at how workplaces can be designed to increase productivity.

To facilitate all four stages of cognition, an office must be designed to support all three of the brain's neural networks, the white paper asserts.

There is the salience network, which monitors external and internal stimuli and organises priorities. There is the executive control network, which develops new ideas in response to focus work. Finally there is the default network, which forms creative insight when emotions and engagement are low.

“Knowing how these networks work together helps us understand what exactly those right work habits are, and how to design for them in the workplace,” reads the white paper.

According to John Scott, who co-authored the white paper with Beck Johnson, a lot of it comes down to acoustics.

“You need about 70 decibels to enhance creative performance,” he told Dezeen. “Anything lower than that, say a just quiet conversation, which is about 50 decibels, and we pick up on the fact that it's too quiet. Anything higher, above 85 decibels, which is like city traffic heard from the inside of a car, is actually too high and distracting. So there's this interesting range that is around 70 decibels that's ideal. This is why a lot of people will go to a coffee shop to work.”

However noise levels are far from the only factor in this equation; natural light and external viewpoints are proven to improve focus, as is having control over lighting and temperature.

“Oftentimes, when we want to ‘clear our head’, we seek a different space and activity (like a walk outdoors), daydream, or do something routine,” explains the paper. “When we do this, we’re letting our brains noodle on potential ideas. How many ideas have come to light when you were doing something routine, like commuting to work?”

The list, however, goes on; as well as addressing employees' needs through smart workplace design for optimal creative performance, company culture is equally important, the report asserts.

“When the office culture and environment are misaligned, that’s when we get problems and conflicts,” said Johnson. “You might have people that are encouraging specific types of behaviours, but if they don’t have the spaces to support those behaviours, that creates a tension. And vice versa; if you have a space that provides for all of these behaviours and ways of thinking but you don’t have a culture then people won't be able to use it. Culture and environment are equally important.”

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor as he continues to expand his horizons.
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