Matt Kingdon: SMEs are getting their office space all wrong

Soapbox: SMEs are getting their office space all wrong, says Matt Kingdon
Better use of space can boost creativity - and the bottom line, the co-founder of What If consultancy tells Rachel Bridge.

The way we use office space has completely changed and the businesses who fail to realise this will get left behind, says Matt Kingdon, co-founder and co-chairman of What If, an innovation consultancy.

He said: "Having unlimited broadband at home has had unintended consequences - it makes it so easy for people to work at home now. That has put a lot of pressure on the office to up its game because more than ever it needs to be the place where people get together and get the best out of each other. It is not where people come because they need the kit, it is where they come because they need other people."

As a result, Kingdon says that offices need to be arranged to make it easy for people to have informal conversations.
He said: "The game has been raised now for the office to deliver on people socialising at work and providing the unintended beneficial consequences of people colliding with each other and having the kind of conversations they didn't expect to have. If you look at the history of great things which have been created, it has not been through planning and strategically thinking things through - it has been through people having surprising conversations. The office now needs to deliver an environment which can make that more likely to happen."Kingdon said that simple changes such as introducing large cafe-style tables in kitchen areas can produce the kind of environment which encourages the sharing of ideas: "Offices should have less desk space and more kitchen table space, because that encourages collision."

He said that modern offices should also reflect the fact that people like to work very intensely on their own in short bursts as well as socialising with colleagues. He said: "People need a place to crawl away and focus really hard on things, but also to grab a coffee and talk to somebody."However Kingdon warns against creating 'wacky' offices as a way of trying to create this kind of environment, saying that they do not help creativity.

He said: "I have spent the last 22 years experimenting with colleagues in lots of different ways to create this kind of beneficial collision. We have put giant beds in offices, we have had darkened thinking rooms, we have had rooms with masseurs in them, we have had a library - you name it, we have tried it, and I know that wacky doesn't work. Creating something like a slide might look interesting and be used briefly on the first day of installation, but it rapidly becomes a white elephant."
He said that as far as possible, firms should create office space that is flexible and can be adapted to different requirements as needed. He said: "Create an office space where office furniture is moveable." Kingdon said that taking the time to create the right kind of office environment can reap significant benefits for a firm, which can ultimately boost profits.

He said: "A bland thoughtless space will contribute to people feeling less engaged with their colleagues and the purpose of their work. Office space which encourages people to communicate and to stretch their thinking will raise awareness and engagement and pride in the workplace - and ultimately that translates into the bottom line."
He added: "If employers don't pay attention to the office environment then they won't get the kind of behaviour, conversation, or actions from their employees which modern agile companies need. It is that important."

-By Rachel Bridge

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