Providing people with workplaces where interaction and inspiration collide is the key to achieving innovation, argues Gi Fernando

Achieving employee engagement is no easy task, and there are various factors that businesses need to get right: from overall company vision to everyday motivational techniques. One of the key components is physical space. In a vibrant economy, many more people will be working in spaces that encourage creativity, where today’s offices all too often inhibit it.

That doesn’t mean every office needs to become open plan and modelled after West Coast yoga retreats, but it does mean providing people with places where they can work happily and productively.

Creating collisions the key to innovation

My personal interest in the symbiosis between people and places came from my experience at the Tea Building in Shoreditch, east London. When my company moved there in the early 2000s, the building was a thriving hub of tech companies, architects, artists and everything in between. The natural interactions and inspiration that the team gained from working in close proximity to dynamic and different companies was invaluable.

It’s something that we’ve (myself and three other entrepreneurs led by John Yi) endeavoured to replicate in San Francisco with ‘Code and Canvas’, a workspace which caters for a mix of artists and tech companies.

There, the landlord has granted us a preferential lease on the building next door (supported by local government), because they like the community we are creating and see both a positive community impact and a more sustainable economic win.

Similarly I am an investor in Timberyard which mixes artists, award-winning coffee and tea and curated businesses to create a more vibrant local community.

Where creativity collides

What I have learned, on both sides of the Atlantic, is that great innovation comes when you bring the right people together in the right space. It is a diversity of expertise, backgrounds and experience which fosters the best ideas. The everyday interaction of creative minds is what should be encouraged, and that starts with the local working environment for every business.

The UK needs to focus more on optimising the places in which companies exist and people work. That will require effective partnerships between the public and private sectors, to unlock the full potential of the built environment in cities and beyond.

If the UK can get that right, it has a chance to inspire a much more engaged workforce, deal with its productivity puzzle and create the conditions for a vibrant and successful economy.

Gi Fernando is Founder of Freeformers

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Feature | Future of work | Talent