It is quite common to see the descriptor “creative” attached to advertisements aimed at leasing office space. The title, once reserved for artsy renovations of older, usually industrial buildings, is now ubiquitous and equally likely to be found describing space without a suspended celling in a classic high rise office building, as space in a downtown loft district. When they first appeared, creative spaces were usually an artist’s or architect’s response to his or her own needs and an utter lack of budget. They became appealing because they were usually in pretty cool older buildings that had a ton of character. Those spaces were manipulated by talented folks to serve interesting activities like painting, sculpting, and in architect’s offices: group efforts like model building, project reviews, brainstorming sessions, and preparation of large presentations. Usually large and open, without much improvement in the way of partitions or finishes, they worked well for those purposes because the lack of permanent construction meant that they could be easily reconfigured to accommodate changing numbers of people and different types of activities.  They were affordable because they were do it yourself, made with humble materials, in buildings that were located in not-so-great parts of town. They were creative because they were a novel response to a set of unusual requirements; and they supported what are generally considered creative activities- the making of art or architecture.

After a while, businesses other than artists and architects started asking for those kinds of spaces, mostly because they liked the look of the exposed construction and high volumes (especially if you were lucky enough to be in a building with brick walls or wooden trusses). As these spaces became more sophisticated, the element of cost savings the early versions afforded started to disappear. The added performance criteria newer users demanded plus an expansion in the type of uses that could be accommodated, and a desire to communicate a branding image beyond what the raw elements of the building inherently provided, all contributed to this. Also contributing to increased construction costs was the recognition that utilities remaining in full view need to be visually organized, that sound needs to be attenuated and that to properly light these kinds of spaces, a greater range and capability in the fixtures are demanded. Spaces that don’t meet these standards remain less expensive to build, but their performance level, even basic comfort, can leave something to be desired. In any case the creative part of that space has more to do with how it is fit out than how it looks the day you sign the lease.

Currently, when you see an advertisement for creative space, two questions come to mind: what do they mean by “creative”, and is creative space something that actually benefits your business? If your workspace is geared for highly repetitive and structured activities, producing a well-defined and in-demand work product, then maybe being in creative space is not that important. For these operations, an efficient plan layout of equipment and activities, a pleasant atmosphere, ergonomic furniture and enjoyable break areas seem sufficient. It can be unfinished or finished any way you’d like. On the other hand,  really creative space (space that is more open and accommodates a variety of working configurations, or allows some level of adjustment, or both) seems to be essential for any group that needs to generate effective responses to the dynamic conditions most businesses operate within.

The kinds of work environments that fit that definition can range across a spectrum from spaces that include not just work stations but lots of open space and furniture that looks more like it is for relaxing than working (the idea being that good things happen when people communicate informally in a relaxed atmosphere); to highly flexible spaces that can be reconfigured to accommodate a range of uses. These can be super simple, with work surfaces on wheels that allow for easy reconfiguration, to much more sophisticated examples. Wireless technology and improved battery life have greatly expanded the possibilities for these types of environments.

In each of these cases, everything about the space, the configuration and location of activities, the furniture and the support systems, should be designed to help you do what you need to do. They should let you and your people work across a spectrum of activities, to reconfigure the work environment or shift within it, to suit the activity of the moment. All this facilitates the best work product and the most innovative solutions to the challenges of the business your people can produce. In other words, a creative work space helps you work creatively. If your space does all that, then you have creative space. If it looks cool but doesn’t help your people work the way they need to, then maybe it is just the lease advertisement that is creative.

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