Interior Of Busy Design Office With Staff

Using Tech, Design and Dialogue to Spark Innovation

Incubators, accelerators, start-up spaces – the lines are often blurred on what these buzzed-about terms mean. In a new report from the Brookings Institute, “Innovation Spaces: The New Design of Work,” authors Julie Wagner and Dan Watch shed some light on these spaces and the trends contributing to their proliferation.

The report outlines three key factors influencing the design of innovative workspaces:

  • The increasingly collaborative nature of innovation is changing the nature of design. The old adage of “two heads are better than one” is proven in research studies that demonstrate the power of collaboration in creating disruptive ideas. A study which evaluated 19.9 million papers and 2 million patents over 50 years found that “teams dominate individual authors in the development of innovative ideas.” To facilitate this open innovation, workplaces are designed to be more open, flexible, social and tech-enabled. Diverse sectors and disciplines have the opportunity to mix in environments that encourage social interaction through joint public spaces, such as kitchens and lounges. Responsive design in the form of moveable furniture, walls and equipment allow for maximum flexibility as employee needs change. “The space that you design on moving day will change in 12 months so you better be designing for that fact,” said Peter Marsh, Vice President and Principal Project Manager, Workplace Strategies.
  • The complexity of innovation underscores the need for face-to-face communication. While collaboration across diverse disciplines can be facilitated through architectural design elements, there are challenges inherent in solidifying understanding between the two disparate groups. “Research reveals that the pressure points include differences in language and terminology, potentially conflicting sets of experiences, different norms and even expectations,” the report states. To overcome these barriers, increased focus on problem-solving skills and plenty of face-to-face communication is key. Positioning firms in close geographic proximity to each other can also help eliminate barriers. “Technology can visually connect people across great distances … Yet, even with these advancements, interviews suggest that the intimacy achieved through in person face-to-face communication remains highly valued.” The report points to design elements including atriums, internal staircases and corridors, along with cafes and kitchens, as effective means to increase social interactions and “serendipitous meetings.”
  • The ubiquitous nature of technology is transforming spaces, but must be balanced against human and organizational needs. The report identifies specific technologies that can be used as collaboration and communication tools (Skype, WebEx), research and production tools (3D printers, in-situ visualization), and display and showcase tools (LED video walls, digital whiteboards). And while it may be tempting to implement any and all of the technological tools available, “An essential ingredient to successfully identifying and integrating technology in spaces is not to make broad generalizations around technology, but to undergo an incremental and experiential learning process.” As with design, organizational culture and goals should be aligned with the types of technology utilized.

Successful innovation spaces – that balance design, technology and human needs – can increase company competitiveness and lead to important cross-disciplinary breakthroughs. As one interviewee from the report put it: “You simply do not get the same type of interaction in classic office building designs.”

Learn more about this topic and other trends in office design, development, investment and more at CRE.Insights: The Office Evolution, Nov. 9-10 in Brooklyn, New York. Register by Sept. 27 to take advantage of early bird rates.

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