During a recent snow day in Philadelphia, I had planned to get a ton of work done. I had PowerPoints to create, paperwork to fill out, and writing to be done. But the calling of my couch and my dog overpowered me. The only things I finished were a snowball fight with my kids, a batch of cookies, and a couple of episodes of Law & Order.
Our environment and workspace have a substantial pull over us. Today, mine said, “Kick back, relax!” But in the best of times, our space can inspire us to do more. Space and environment can be used to enhance and cultivate our creativity, and in a time when businesses and their employees are being called on to innovate, that’s important.
Setting Up the Perfect Space for Innovation
If you work at a start-up or at Google, you may already work in a spaceship-inspired pod or take calls from a hammock, while having your lunchtime smoothie delivered by a dog on a skateboard. For most of us, this is not daily life.
There are offices that have been redesigned to be more open and provide “touch down” space rather than traditional desks or offices — tables where anyone can sit with a laptop and plug in. Some offices are now including “collaboration spaces,” which are intended to encourage more sharing and free thinking. These spaces will typically include whiteboards and tables where people can sit together and brainstorm.
And there are still many more traditional offices, where meetings happen in conference rooms with a head of the table and everyone spends the day in their cubicle, heads down.
Add Color and Cool Jams to Inspire Creativity
So how can you use your space for the creative good? Should you run out and buy a ping-pong table for the office right away? Not quite. Building a creative culture is not as simple as dropping in a foosball table and turning to your suit-clad workers declaring, “We’re so zany now!”
But there are some simple things you can do in your environment — whatever it is now, and whether it’s at the office or at home — to encourage creativity in a genuine way:
- Let there be light. Any interior designer worth their salt will tell you that lighting makes a huge difference in our space. For creativity, natural light is ideal — do your best to avoid those interior conference rooms with no windows. If you are stuck in a fluorescent palace, consider additional lighting. One of my offices is interior, and I’ve added lamps to either side of the room. They take care of dark corners and complement the fluorescents, so I don’t feel like I’m lying on a medical gurney while I’m trying to work.
- Stock up on supplies. Scatter brightly colored sticky notes and colored markers around your space. These are the tools of the innovation trade! Sketching was our first way of storytelling, and it still holds true when you want to communicate an idea. Plus, you need somewhere to jot down thoughts that could later evolve into a full-blown idea. Consider having dry erase boards, or for bonus points, covering a wall with dry erase paint. Flip charts and markers are another great method for getting things down. Having the right tools encourages us to break away from formal PowerPoints and get creative on the spot.
- Have food for thought. Have snacks on hand because nobody can think on an empty stomach. You don’t have to have a fully-stocked kitchen; a bowl of granola bars is much appreciated. Also consider scattering magazines or writing down links to compelling TED talks. These can help provide inspiration and a needed break from the daily grind. Sometimes, if we’re wracking our brains, we need to step away and switch gears, to allow ideas to creep in.
- Pump in cool jams. Low background music sets the tone and instantly makes the environment feel more laid-back. When I teach, I play music as students are coming in to each class and when they’re doing group work. It immediately signals the vibe and tone of my class. With music-streaming services, it’s easier than ever to pick up a low-cost wireless speaker and provide a soundtrack for creativity to flow.
- Consider adding accents. If you want to really go above and beyond (or you’re dealing with some seriously rough space), some basic home décor items can go a long way. Command strips will let you hang pictures on the wall without damaging them. Throw rugs and pillows are my favorite way to make a space warmer and more inviting. Everyone comments on the gorgeous macramé pillow in my office that I found on clearance for $5! And plants bring the outside in and make it feel fresh — even fake ones work, and they require no maintenance!
Pulling all of this together is a small effort but makes for a big impact. It’s a great way to delight team members who use the space and tell the office that you’re looking to make a change to daily work life. No ping-pong required!
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.