by Mark Miller

How cool do the offices at startups, ad agencies, and places like Facebook, Google, Zappos, and more look? They seem like magical places where productivity is high, employee satisfaction and employee engagement is even higher, and your workforce is constantly coming up with innovative solutions.

Actually, that may not be far off. There may actually be some proof in the pudding (which is probably organic, locally-made, and available free in the communal kitchen). Fast Company just reported on research out of universities from around the world including the University of Michigan, NYU, Nanyang Technical College in Singapore, and more, which found that students were MORE CREATIVE when working in an open, non-walled environment.

The numbers are pretty incredible: students working in an open environment were 20% more creative than those working within a typical walled office or cubicle-type environment.

What would 20% higher creativity and creative output mean for your work? What if you extended it to a 20,000 person corporation?

But before we go about tearing down the walls of our offices and setting up giant rooms where people network freely and do work wherever they decide to sit or stand, there’s an important point that this research doesn’t take into account—not everyone is going to be able to function seamlessly in this kind of environment.

Take a look at words and phrases that typify four types of thinking:

  • Analytical – logical, data-driven, “why?,” clear thinking, analysis-based learning, problem-solving
  • Structural – practical, guideline-driven, process, organization, details, planning
  • Social – empathic, collaborative, people-driven, learning through people, team-centric
  • Conceptual – big picture, out-of-the-box, connections, visionary, intuition about ideas

These thinking styles can certainly all function in an open office space, but it is critical to provide outlets that suit each attribute.

  • You’ll get even more creative ideas from Structural thinkers in an open environment if you provide ways to monitor tasks and stay on top of initiatives, brainstorms, and projects.
  • You’ll get more creative solutions from Analytical thinkers if you allow open dialogue in a way that forces people to defend ideas and develop logic.
  • Social thinkers will amp up creativity when an open environment takes into account all forms of collaboration (email, phone, etc.), not just face-to-face.
  • Conceptual thinkers would want whiteboards for idea generation in addition to wall-less offices.

Creativity and productivity boosting with an open environment has merit, but there’s still a need for customization to match what’s going on in employee’s brains.