08/04/2014

By Matt Chapman, VP & Head of RoW Innovation Services, Mindjet

Companies put a huge amount of effort into creating modern, productivity-enhancing offices. However, as IT heads further into the cloud, should virtual work spaces get the same treatment?

The last two decades have witnessed a revolution in how businesses use office space – with a new focus on increasing productivity and innovation. With our working lives increasingly dominated by technology and cloud-based applications, businesses need to apply the same methodology to their virtual infrastructure.

Physical workplace revolution

Traditionally, the office was a place where an individual went to get their job done, sealed off from colleagues by divides or separate offices – think Mad Men’s creative Dom Draper with his huge personal office, or even David Brent wasting away time in his! This is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

The last couple have decades have seen a number of global brands break the status quo and successfully implement new ways of structuring the workplace with a focus on collaboration and interaction. In 2000, Steve Jobs transformed a derelict Del Monte canning factory into a highly modern, innovation driven, Apple office. Such was the open-plan lay out of the renovated space, with all communal areas, mailboxes and toilets in the central atrium, employees were forced to mingle beyond their immediate neighbours.

Cross business collaboration was the end-product, and soon other companies were taking Jobs’ lead. Google has built numerous innovative workspaces, including the new 1,000,000 square foot campus in San Francisco, where every employee is within a two and a half minute walk of every other one. UK-based physical innovators include fruit smoothie manufacturer Innocent which equipped its London HQ with an astro-turfed cafe for meetings and brainstorms to take place in.

Virtual workplace revolution

However, as workforces become more mobile and technologically dependent, businesses are being forced to re-think how they structure the working environment again – applying the same commitment to physical innovation in the virtual realm.

Unsurprisingly, early adopters of virtual innovation include Google whose meme generator is said to have helped spark many of its best ideas. The freedom to create memes (collaborative pieces of content passed between people) in office hours is part of Google’s ‘20 per cent time’ policy, which gives employees one day every week to work on pet projects that fall outside of their job description. While Google’s resources are staggering, even mortal companies with smaller budgets can enhance the level of collaboration within the business.

Free tools such as Yammer are useful, providing a general collaboration space set aside from the more formal and process-focussed work email system. However, for specific projects or challenges, software allowing a more focussed approach is available, to help drive involvement and channel creativity and input towards a specific goal. Technologies for innovating such as ours – SpigitEngage – work like this to provide a simple way to involve people across the workforce in both the creation and delivery of ideas, ensuring employees and departments aren’t siloed away.

Business impact

Improved collaboration and creativity can have a huge positive impact on a business. Great ideas are what can lead to great products, the evolution of a company’s business model, or even simply a more efficient organisation, but an environment must be created to foster them and ensure a high conversion rate.

The tech revolution has created new opportunities to link workforces together, and maximise innovation. Constant innovation is what keeps businesses ahead of the field. Innovation is priceless. Yet its cost can be relatively low, largely, as it is driven using an already existing asset of the company – its people.