One of the UK’s leading office design company is recommending people leave their workplace to stay inspired. Paradoxical as it may seem, Oktra’s encouragement to exit the office is actually backed by a lot of science – and their own experience.
The natural world has long been known to enhance human productivity and wellbeing. We need to connect with nature to maintain good health, a fact which has popularised biophilic design in and outside of the workplace. Access to green spaces promotes mental and physical wellbeing, improving concentration, productivity and even lowering stress levels. But the benefit of venturing outside the office goes beyond physical health.
“To feed their creativity, our teams do a lot of looking at magazines,” says creative director at Oktra, Nic Pryke. “If you keep filling your head with all that stuff, it’s hard not to design it. Because that’s where your ideas come from. How do you break out of that? Go and look at other things.”
Breaking out of your day-to-day environment spurs out-of-the-box creativity. A search for innovative solutions is exactly what prompted Oktra’s professional teams to leave their current workspace to design their new one.
“You can get very absorbed in the bubble of being in an office, and most people don’t ever leave it,” explains the company’s head of people and workplaces, Lorna Killick. “We take that to the next level because we’re designing offices every single day, so you get really office-oriented. We wanted to break down those barriers.”
For fresh design ideas around wellbeing, visitor experience, flexibility and collaboration, Oktra visited a farm, factory, hospital and shoe store. “There are many, many successful workplaces in the world that have nothing to do with offices,” Lorna points out. And it’s that departure from conventional office design that sparked some pretty big ideas.
Visions of completely customisable meeting rooms came from St Thomas’s Hospital in Central London, cabling installed in the ceiling to promote total flexibility was inspired by the Triumph Motorcycle Factory, an ever-changing font of house gallery experience for visitors and clients came to mind in Galeria Melissa, a shoe store in London’s Covent Garden, and last but certainly not least, Hackney City Farm may just have convinced Oktra to allow pets in the office.
LinkedIn conducted a survey in 2019 confirming that creativity is the most needed skill in today’s workplace. As an award-winning office design company, Oktra is well-versed in realising spaces that promote creativity, but they’re also the first to admit that ground-breaking innovation won’t come from staying at your desk.
Dr Michael Bloomfield, anthropologist and former lecturer at the University of East London, defines creativity as “any idea which is new, valuable and counterintuitive.” He’s coined this trifecta the Three Requisites of Creativity and points out that ideas with two out of the three requisites will fall short of creative standards.
In a recent article for Leesman, the world’s largest independent database of workplace effectiveness, Dr Bloomfield details how to support creative thinking, assuring readers that it’s not just a talent or inclination people are born with, but a way of thinking that the brain can be prompted to adopt.
“There are a number of ways to enhance creativity, and many of them relate to our physical environment and physical experience of the world; it’s not all about what’s in your head,” he explains. And a number of studies prove Dr Bloomfield’s point
Exposure to the colours blue and green have been proven to increase performance on creativity tests, possibly, as Dr Bloomfield points out, due to their connotative association with space (blue) and growth (green). The presence of living plants also boosts creativity, with Leesman’s data showing that over 50% of employees associate greenery with an effective work environment – and a study from the University of Exeter demonstrating the inclusion of plants in office environments lead to a 15% increase in productivity.
Constrained thinking can be directly linked to confined workspace, as found in a study by Joan Meyers-Levy. The professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota conducted a series of tests during which she asked people to perform different problem-solving tasks in rooms of varying ceiling height.
“When people are in a room with a high ceiling, they activate the idea of freedom. In a low-ceilinged room, they activate more constrained, confined concepts,” Meyers-Levy told Live Science. Dr Bloomfield points out that the results of the ceiling studies are based in construal level theory, a theory in social psychology that links psychological distance with abstract thought.
From expansive spaces to biophilic elements like live plants and natural colours, the environmental factors that boost creativity can all be found in one place: nature. Yes, office environments can be designed to leverage these things to promote wellbeing and the spaces that do so see incredible benefits both in productivity levels and employee happiness. But even the best design can’t compensate for lack of exposure to nature; in other words, people need to go outside.
For Oktra, leaving their office to experience new workplaces provided the inspiration they needed to start designing their next workplace with newfound creativity.