Being an innovation leader is about more than just the products or services your business offers. Innovation success starts with the environment where your employees work. The right workplace environment will foster connection and collaboration, inspire fresh thinking and creative solutions, and empower employees to do their very best work.
What steps, then, should you take to create a work environment that regularly embraces innovation instead of merely paying lip service to it? Here’s where to start:
Create an open environment for employee idea sharing
Think about your last team brainstorm: did team members feel truly free to contribute ideas, or were they “self-censoring” for fear of how others would react? Self-censorship can happen when company culture prioritizes idea evaluation over idea generation. Innovative companies do the opposite. They foster an environment that is open and receptive to all ideas, rather than instantly dissecting an idea for feasibility.
Even in an open environment, not everyone will feel comfortable speaking up at a large team meeting. For inclusive participation, invite employees to share within smaller groups or with their direct manager. You can also create a “digital inbox” where employees can email their ideas or suggestions.
Give proper recognition where it’s due, too. If an employee suggests a new process that saves everyone an average of one hour per week, that’s incredibly valuable. Recognize their work via email, at your next team meeting, or privately, depending on their preference.
You can also consider initiatives like gamifying work or creating friendly competitions among employees. Offer fun incentives like company swag, medals, or badges, and always have any competition pointing toward a company goal. When people work together in this setting, you’ll likely see new, exciting ideas.
Rethink your workplace layout to foster connection and collaboration
If your company has returned (or is planning its return) to the office, now’s the perfect time to take a closer look at your current workplace layout. We’re still social distancing, but are there hubs where people can connect safely to bounce ideas off each other? Can you rearrange furniture to create inviting spaces for socially-distanced collaboration? Simple layout changes can create space for the serendipitous moments of connection that we miss when we work from home.
Our home office environments can have a big impact on our productivity and capacity for creative thinking. If your company is still fully remote, share home office tips and advice, and encourage employees to do the same. It can be something simple, like hosting a “clean your desk” happy hour once a month. Or maybe you’ve got a dry erase board or cork board where you can write fun messages to your colleagues.
Support professional development
Employees that receive career training and personal development opportunities are typically more engaged at work and more willing to bring more innovative ideas to the table. These opportunities come in all forms, and it’s worth seeing where different employees are at in their skill set and knowledge before introducing a career training curriculum across the broader company.
Effective training programs mix internal employee intel with outside resources, like conferences and events. A good place to start is to consider cross-departmental learning opportunities. Pair employees from different departments together in a buddy system and schedule a biweekly coffee chat. Employees will gain greater insight into how your company operates as a whole. This broader perspective helps break down departmental silos and paves the way for innovative ideas.
An innovative company culture and innovative workplace environment go hand-in-hand– and everything from how your workplace furniture is arranged to professional development opportunities can play a role. How do you foster innovation at your company?