CreativeExecs Spaces: Developing New Space for the Olympus Creative Team

We recently conducted a series of CreativeExecs Roundtables to talk about “Managing the Creative Environment, Team and Individual” where we focused heavily on the challenges of developing “creative friendly” office space for in-house creative teams.  Our opinion is that a creative department’s physical space should be a component of the department’s strategic business plan and a consideration for any executive who strives to improve the performance of such a department.  This opinion was reinforced as we listened to the corresponding challenges of leaders from over 45 in-house creative and marketing teams.

A best-practice creative work environment has unique aspects compared to general best-practice office environments. In addition, the creative team often more highly values the physical work environment than other company employees. Creative team members require regular sources of inspiration, clear paths of collaborative communication, easy access to meeting facilities and highly functional workspaces that are optimized for sight, sound and movement. The creative workspace can have significant impact (positive or negative) on creative process, team-member communications, productivity, work quality and most importantly, culture.

Organizations vary far and wide in what they will and will not approve for creative departments in the area of physical workspace. Enterprise-wide policies often exist that drive one consistent look and feel for office space across the organization. Some companies have very tight budgets amidst a challenging economy and simply won’t approve any money for significant improvement to workspace. In many organizations, decisions and responsibilities in this area are exclusively reserved for a facilities management team, not a creative or marketing leader. And for some, the case that the physical space may matter more to a creative team’s performance, than to other functional groups in the organization, may be too difficult a case to convey. Whatever the challenge to the creative leader though, it’s hard to argue that nothing can always be done to improve the creative workspace.

If you are considering enhancing your creative workspace in some way, no better way to begin your research process than by learning what other creative leaders are doing. Scott Hennessy is the Director of Corporate Creative Services for Olympus Corporation of the Americas, working out of their headquarters in Center Valley, PA. He leads a very talented creative team who partners with Business Groups, Operating Companies, and other Corporate Shared Services of Olympus Corporation of the Americas to design and develop print, video, photography, online and interactive media programs. Scott and his team recently went through a very successful transformation project, in which they developed a new, creative-friendly workspace for Corporate Creative Services. I had the pleasure of being able to ask Scott a few questions about the initiative, which he kindly took time to answer for us.

Brendon Derr: Tell us about your old space. What did it look like and how did it feel? How did communication flow and where did people meet?

Scott Hennessy: Corporate Creative Services originally reported into our consumer business group and was located in that section of the Olympus corporate headquarters. Our team was fragmented and siloed due to office cubicles. It was a challenging environment to create collaboratively. Communication flow was hampered at times due to relying on email as opposed to collaborating on a white board or having open creative critiques or conversations. To have a team meeting you needed to reserve a conference room or squeeze into a person’s cubicle.

BD: There must have been good reasons for you to take on such a seemingly daunting project! What were the primary reasons to create a new space?

SH: The primary reason was in direct response to the rebranding of the department (formerly called Internet Business Development) and the increased number of requests flowing into Corporate Creative Services. It was agreed to develop an area where strategic creative collaboration could flourish in support of all areas of Olympus’ business. The time had come to create and brand our own identity.  The first step was to build a home and Olympus provided the foundation. A showroom used by our Scientific equipment business was being relocated, so I submitted the request to our leadership to have CCS reinvent the area.

BD: Tell us about the new space…why did you decide to design it the way you did?

SH: We wanted to create a space that fostered creative business collaboration to enable us to truly function as an in-house agency. Upon exiting the second floor stairwell, you enter a naturally-lit entrance leading to a set of glass doors bearing the frosted team logo, Corporate Creative Services.

One side of the workspace is floor-to-ceiling windows, which provide a view of Lake Thomas and the Lehigh Valley mountains. The other side of the area is all business. Two huge white boards provide a place to flesh out strategic business support; they are separated by a plasma TV, which we use to preview in-process video projects, display real-time Web analytics and conduct team meetings. CCS production team members have their own workstation on a three-person open pinwheel desk.

These pinwheel workstations allow for easy conversation between all team members to provide a stronger creative business solution. This open-air environment was also the inspiration for designing the CCS manager cubicles that have glass panels—instead of opaque walls—to encourage approachability.

BD: In the few months your team has spent in your new space, what are some of the early benefits you’re seeing as a result of the change?

SH: Increase in morale within an already engaged team.

This heightened engagement is also accompanied by a sense of pride and ownership for our new work area. The open floor plan and workstations succeeded in providing stronger collaboration and noticeable increases in workflow. The success of the department’s new home can be measured by the increase in our output, which can be directly related to our team’s positive engagement. Our new workspace is also a model that likely will be emulated in other parts of our headquarters facility.

Though Scott was very concise in using as much existing material as possible to offset the Olympus investment, many creative departments still do not have the ability to initiate such drastic changes to their physical work spaces.  What worked for Olympus Corporation of the Americas may not necessarily work for your organization. But, I am confident in saying that I haven’t met one in-house creative leader, among the hundreds who I’ve spoken with, who didn’t have at least a small opportunity to positively impact the creative team by improving the workspace. This management category usually contains the low hanging fruit that leaders can easily pick off and take advantage of.

Thank you to Scott Hennessy and the CCS team at Olympus for sharing their story of transformation with us, and for providing the inspiration and validation some may need to get their own office projects off the ground.  And congratulations on a job well done, we wish your team much success in 2011 as you settle into your new space.

If you have additional ideas and experiences to share with the CreativeExecs community around developing creative work spaces, please do share with us. Every idea helps!

*** Spring 2011 dates and details have been announced for Cella’s “Beyond the Creative: Business Operations for Creative Leaders” training. Learn more, including what last year’s attendees had to say, at http://www.cellaconsulting.com/beyond_the_creative. ***

Brendon Derr has been working in the creative industry for over seven years. As the Business Development Manager for Cella Consulting, he maintains intimate and successful business relationships with creative leaders in corporations and agencies. Brendon has gained a keen sense of the unique cultural characteristics that make the Creative Services field tick. Prior to working with Cella, he provided business development for The BOSS Group, where he established himself as a resident expert in building integrated and interactive media creative teams. Brendon developed a new social media recruiting model which is still running today. Before his work with Cella and BOSS, he worked for film and video production companies, providing TV and Corporate production services to creative clientele.

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