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Want to enhance creativity? Changing your workspace, researchers say, pushes people out of their comfort zones, allowing them to learn from each other, thereby generating more innovative ideas.
The study showed that reconfiguring work areas to force people to sit closer to co-workers with whom they did not previously naturally encourage interactions, which helped employees develop new product ideas that benefited the company, said Sunkee Lee, Assistant Professor at the Carnegie Mellon University in the US.
When people are forced to interact with unfamiliar colleagues, "you have more chances to learn things useful for developing new business ideas", said Lee.
For the study, the team included 60 sales employees in a South Korean e-commerce firm which changed their seating arrangements.
The findings, published in Organization Science, showed that those who sat near new colleagues engaged in more "exploration" which described behaviour such as risk-taking and experimentation and performed better financially than the individuals who did not experience much change in their seating arrangements.
In addition, the employees who seemed to learn the most from their new neighbours were those who had higher levels of experience in the organisation.
Those with higher levels of experience were better at learning new knowledge and applying it to their own tasks and new interactions with unfamiliar colleagues prompted more learning, the results further showed.
Furthermore, the new seating arrangement helped employees improve their performance in selling their existing products (i.e. exploitation), most likely because the interactions with new neighbours also helped them generate new marketing strategies, pricing methods and product promotions for their existing products.
"Companies have to always prepare for the next 'big thing'. The problem is that many ideas never even make it to the market and that failure is an essential part of exploration," added Lee.
However, Lee noted that open work spaces could include privacy issues, fast spread of illness and that people could experience more distractions.
He also cautioned against creating a hybrid environment with quiet silo areas where employees could go for more privacy.