Guest post by Shar Behzadian – Find her @sharzadian on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter
In the last two years, I have tried out many office spaces. I am talking more than 50 spaces in some of the largest U.S. startup cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, and New York City. All I ever wanted was to work from a gorgeous space that sparks creativity. Somewhere that enables easy conversations and enables my team to connect with other teams and easily start conversations that can open up collaborations. But it almost never happens. So I started creating it for companies.
How a space can enable creativity and innovation for your team?
From the saloons in Paris to the Coupa Cafe in Palo Alto to Studios of Florence and the restaurant hallways of Facebook HQ in Palo Alto, vibrant spaces in which people of diverse backgrounds get into unexpected conversations have been an engine for economic growth and innovative ideas from the beginning of time.
To make such encounters happen is really about how a space can support social density. Groups shape up when individuals feel the permission to remain in a space. Psychologically, humans need a mutually accepted excuse to remain in one space. For example; happy hour culture is an excuse for social density, where a group of individuals feels permitted to stay in the space during a specific time of the day and casual conversations inevitably arise.
Three MIT psychologists; Festinger, Schachter, and Back, found that the main factor for friendships is not the people that share similar attitudes, but rather the people who may pass by each other on a frequent basis that become friends. So how can we create such spaces in our office that support social density and enable casual conversations?
Learning to build teams from Silicon Valley Giants
In both Apple and Pixar, Steve Job was very intentional and focused about creating workspaces that “promote encounters and unplanned collaborations” He said: “If a building doesn’t encourage , you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”
Google creates a second home for employees and creates spaces that facilitate casual conversations. David Radcliffe, Google’s man that designs for a perfect work environment says: “Casual collisions are what we try and create in the work environment. You can’t schedule innovation, you can’t schedule idea generation and so when we think about our facilities around the world we’re really looking for little opportunities for engineers or for creative people to come together.” Facebook built an in-campus marketplace of restaurants and cafes for the employees to effortlessly meet employees from other teams, move around campus and get into serendipitous conversations.
Small startups can adopt the Google-y vision for team building
Understandably not every startup has the resources to create a rooftop park for employees as Facebook HQ does. Not every startup can build an office that is inspired by the children’s playground environment like Google offices. Today, our communal workspaces may aesthetically look like Silicon Valley giants like Facebook, Airbnb, and Google but they miss out on the intentional design that cultivates casual collision.
You might be missing out on opportunities to spark conversations that can seed pivotal innovation for your startup. Small switches don’t need deep pockets and access to resources like giant tech companies. For example, an interesting idea from Google’s New York office is their slow elevators. By installing slow elevators, the office forces workers to use ladders and corridors.
Even when they use the elevator, they are participating in the social density rule. Either way, the employees need to spend more time passing by each other. This makes it more likely for them to engage in unexpected conversations that may seed innovative ideas.
I am not suggesting that you torture your employees with long lines and slow elevators. But I am proposing to rethink the daily routines within your office and innovating them with an intention to facilitate social density. Hopefully in a fun way, which demands company outings and corporate retreats as a peak experience for cultivating teamwork and company culture.
Immersive experiences to engage teamwork: office parks?
We get to build relationships with strangers when we are mutually engaged in an experience bigger than ourselves. For example; watching a performance in the theatre and discussing it with a stranger next to us, or playing a team sport while supporting each other as a team or in a group retreat while exploring deeper layers of our spirituality together or in travels when we open up to serendipity and wonders of life. Shared experiences open a window for connection and conversation.
Companies treat employees to offsite activities and retreats to invest in their health and wellness as well as team building and company culture. In fact, the global wellness economy was a $4.2 trillion market in 2017 and $639 billion of it is attributed to Wellness Tourism. Fun experiences and outings enable the team to connect deeper and strengthen teamwork culture.
But longevity matters. Mindset doesn’t turn into team culture without practice. The team needs to repeat activities that cultivate teamwork over and over again. Until the bonds among individuals deepen and become structural into their daily work. Repetition makes up practice and deepens relationships, which explains why companies spent USD 53.6 billion in 2018 on taking their employees to corporate retreats.
Instead of the work hard/play hard culture that offers such an experience only once every couple of months, we can design a work environment that feels like a retreat. Space for the employee to feel fulfilled, intellectually engaged and surrounded by like-minded friends. A work environment that cultivates play and connection through daily activities and rituals. A space designed to boost creativity and productivity. Creating such an environment guarantees employee happiness encourages innovation and sustains serendipity.
This is the fundamental objective that Facebook, Google, and Apple-designed their workspaces for. A Googler doesn’t feel like going to work every Monday. They feel like it is their second home. They go to a mini-retreat every day where they are surrounded by friends, have a chance to get into intellectually provoking conversations all day and participate in activities and games every day after work. Because Google uses their office space to “create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world.” where people come first. We create Google-y work environments for startups.
Also, check out these 9 Simple Productivity Hacks for New Digital Nomad