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the creativity gap

Kelly Parke, designer and professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Kelly Parke, designer and professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, talked to the Globe about office design and employee creativity:

What exactly is the relation between how workers think and interact and the way the furniture is arranged in an office?

We live in the age of experience. By creating an atmosphere of that allows interaction and socialization to occur naturally, creative collisions tend to happen more often. These creative collisions lead to innovations. Isolation by rigid office layouts can block part of the creative process of collaboration and innovation from happening.

In Montessori schools, pupils often don't have desks, and move around the classroom to do their work assignments. Is there a lesson in this for workplace design?

Yes, we should be observing this carefully. Most of the designs for how companies are equipped date back to the industrial era. In this post-industrial age, or information era, we need to re-evaluate how we work together and how we act in our environment. For example, simple choices like a round table versus a square table can change the value and nature of the communication.

Should forward-thinking companies simply get rid of desks and cubicles and throw out the old style of office organization?

Some companies have already shifted from a traditional office layout. It makes economic sense to examine what is needed rather than just blindly assign everyone an office and a phone line. Some employees make choices about which companies to work for based on how flexible the work environment is. Since we spend so much of our life at work, this is a real consideration.

How closely is personal and mobile technology linked to the way employees work and interact more creatively?

We are shifting away from being locked into a formal office structure with more and better mobile technology that is available. What defines an office? Mobile technology is reshaping that definition. It really comes down to designing a work environment that works for you. We all have different needs when it comes to how and when we work best. Mobile technology has opened some possibilities, but it is not the complete answer to recreating our work experience. Technology can streamline the day-to-day operations and free up some resources to pursue creative ideas.

Can big corporations and government offices adopt these new workplace elements as easily as smaller firms?

Getting large firms to create a better work environment can take time, as it's also a cultural shift that needs to take place within the organization. There can be significant financial savings in some cases, as large operations can scale more efficiently with a good overall design that meets needs and generates an environment that rewards creativity.