Smart moves: Creating the ideal work-force

Allow your staff to offer their own ideas - and the results will show that creativity and productivity go hand-in-hand, writes Jackie Townsend

CREATIVITY is a word which means different things to different people. It can be used for solving problems, finding new ways of doing things and having new ideas.

Professor Derek Clements-Croome at the University of Reading is putting together a book, Creating the Productive Workplace, which follows a conference held in October last year. It covers several approaches to wellbeing and comfort in the workplace, such as buildings designed to be user-friendly and creating an indoor environment which is conducive to creative and productive work. In his summary, at the beginning of the book, Professor Clements-Croome says that productivity is related to the morale of the people working within any organization. I would say that the same applies to creativity.

As a species we are naturally creative; we have created our lives, our families, our society and our culture, and because we are creative, and curious, nothing ever stays the same for very long. We are leaving behind the industrial era and seem to be entering a new era, governed by information and communication. In order to be able to cope with the present upheaval and to find ourselves pointing in the right direction, we need all the creativity we can muster.

But creativity needs a space in which to happen; it's not something you can force. You have to make a space and then allow for whatever fills it, which might not be what you had anticipated or even wanted. The urge and the ability to be creative is in everyone, and it's unique.

I spend a lot of my time looking at ways in which people in the workplace can be more creative and more productive. I have found that people tend to be creative and innovative when they are given the opportunity to have an input of their own.

The person who knows a particular job best is the person who does it.Even if there are lots of people doing the same job, each person will have their own ideas about doing it.

It's a good idea to start at the grass roots level of a company because that's where things often go wrong - not because the staff at that level are incompetent - but because they are more likely to be bored, tired, underpaid, undervalued and, for some of these reasons, uninvolved.

One company I worked with was housed in a building probably built in the 1960s, rather grey outside and quite dark inside.

It was a service company, on four floors, with quite a lot of pink and red, which had the effect of making you feel rather sleepy.

The doors to the offices were the same on all floors, which got confusing because there were no numbers or titles to tell you which office you were about to enter.

We made a suggestion to make the doors to different offices, different colours.It would give the occupants of those areas a feeling of identity and would save energy being wasted in confusion.

Then that colour could be continued inside the door, by the carpet or a design on the walls. Most people like to have a feeling of belonging, in fact most of us need it, and in the workplace it's helpful for communication.

Another suggestion was to increase the amount of daylight. People were working under artificial light all day because in many areas large filing cabinets had been placed in front of the windows. Artificial light is tiring and to be able to look out of the window is refreshing. If you're working on a PC all day or on the telephone for several hours at a stretch, you need to be able to look out of the window.

Another company had a cafeteria in the basement - again with no natural light - and the tables and chairs were bolted to the floor. The plants were artificial and the flowers on the tables were plastic. The coffee was out of vending machines and the food was uninspiring with little nutritional value.

It was used because it was heavily subsidised, and the only alternative was a sandwich from the shop across the road which would cost more than a two-course meal in the cafeteria.

Companies would do well to invest some thought as well as money into their eating and drinking areas. We are becoming a cafe society - a walk through a shopping area in any city would give lots of ideas for in-house cafes that would be fun to visit, that would provide refreshment of the spirit as well as the body and a venue for impromptu meetings, and would help communication, the most under-valued quality in the workplace.

When people feel good in their surroundings, and when they are eating and drinking, they are more friendly, more generous and more expansive. They relate better. We all try to achieve this in our homes - why not do the same in the office?

Another example was where a company had moved into a building and taken over one floor and wanted to decorate. Management had plans but we felt that a better idea would be to ask the staff what they wanted. People immediately formed groups according to where they were located and what they were doing in that area. They were asked about what colours they wanted, what facilities, what kind of lighting.

Did they want curtains or blinds and who wanted to be next to the window? It was 15 floors up so would anyone prefer not to be next to the window? Everyone thought about what they wanted and talked about what they wanted. They had meetings and got to know new things about each other.

Relationships were formed and teams were formed, which was valuable for the people concerned and for the company.

The intention of these suggestions was to motivate the people concerned and get them involved in what was happening around them every day at work.

Just like any human being or animal, the most essential ingredient of any organization is the degree of life force which it is able to generate and sustain. The level of life force will determine the level of activity of the organization.

Life force equates to awareness, vitality or energy. In an organization or company, as in any living organism, life force or vitality is something which comes from the inside and responds to the outside environment. This is why it is so vital to invite staff, at all levels, to participate - be a part of - and contribute to the company, to the extent that they wish to do this.

The examples I have given are simple enough suggestions but their effect can be transformational.

It is often said that a company's employees are their greatest resource, and that's true: but any organization actually comprises the people who spend their time there, therefore investing time, thought, care and understanding as well as money and training, in your staff, is a good idea.

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