East Meets West: A guide to more collaborative work environments
By Ben Ge, Layla Hassoun, Net Sirisantana and Yunhee Song
Feng Shui (pronounced “feng shway”) is an ancient Chinese methodology examining the relationships between people and their surroundings. It guides us in making choices in the way we organize our spaces to affect energy flow in our environments and in ourselves. In Feng Shui, energy flows are important because they affect and even determine one’s happiness, performance and success.
Here, we will demystify two key components of the Eastern trend, the free flow of energy and the enhancement of positive energy, to show how they parallel with modern space design theories. As many of today’s organizations seek to build spaces that enhance collaboration, creativity and teamwork, we will see that many modern principles are similar to those developed in ancient China.
Let the energy flow
According to the principles of Feng Shui, allowing the free flow of energy is paramount to creating a productive and collaborative environment. Based on this theory, one should avoid blocking the flow of energy because “productive chi cannot flow if all that ‘stuff’…is blocking its movement and cluttering up your mind.”1 This includes blocking passage to limit interactions and visibility to what is happening around you.
At Pixar, Steve Jobs designed an open space in the core campus building by “putting the most important functions at the heart of the building,”2 where shared services i.e. mailboxes, meeting rooms, and coffee bar were centralized. The idea was to encourage employees to talk. By doing so, Jobs may not have considered Chi’s flow, but he purposely created open space for employees to interact because he believed the best creations happened when people with different expertise connected.
Teehan+Lax had a similar philosophy. They found that “seeing what’s going on around your workspace can help to stoke the creative and collaborative process.” This led them to incorporate glass in their office design to provide visibility not only to “who’s involved, and who’s available to be pulled-in” but to “invite more active participation and involvement.”
Enhancing positive energy
Another key component to promote the free flow of Chi is promoting the flow of positive energy. In Feng Shui, incorporating a water feature such as fountains, displaying mirrors or plants and even using specific colors can promote and keep the flow of positive energy. The colors red, yellow, and green, in particular, are considered to increase the energies which build harmony and balance of spaces, as well as enhance creativity.
There may not be substantial evidence to prove these theories, but there is significant evidence to show that when people are more relaxed and positive, they are more creative. A study by Idea Champions found that “only 3% of 10,000 people come up with their best ideas at work. The other 97% said their best ideas come while showering, enjoying a glass of wine, or just doing nothing. While a highly structured, tightly scheduled workplace may foster productivity, a more relaxed, unstructured environment unlocks creativity.”4
A Survey by IdeaPaint supports this theory; employees want more flexibility in their workspaces. They advise “forward thinking organizations…to focus on providing flexible office layouts that quickly respond to the changing needs of the work at hand to accommodate the need to focus and the opportunity to collaborate.”5
CorePrinciples_Infographic for Catalyst blogpost
Adhering to either principle–the modern western, or Feng Shui–is likely to help you create a more positive, productive environment for better collaboration and more creativity. When doing so, keep in mind the following:
● Create open spaces for employees to interact
● Allow for visibility to promote creativity and collaboration
● Take measures to create a more relaxed environment
About the Authors:
The authors are all accomplished professionals and current program participants entering their second year in Pratt’s Design Management, MPS:
Ben Ge – Industrial Design
Layla Hassoun – Industrial Design
Net Sirisantana – Event & Exhibition Design
Yunhee Song – Industrial Design
 Schaefer, P. (2005). Feng Shui for Business Success. Retrieved from http://www.businessknowhow.com/growth/feng_shui.htm
 Lehere, J. (2011, October 10). The Steve Jobs Approach To Teamwork. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2011/10/the-steve-jobs-approach-to-teamwork/
 Gillis, D. (2012, February 9). Designing workspaces for creativity. Retrieved from http://www.teehanlax.com/blog/designing-workspaces-for-creativity/
 Evans, D. (2013, August 12). The Workplace of The Future: Connected, Collaborative, Creative. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-evans/cisco-the-workplace-of-future_b_3744016.html
 The Big Think / Functional Workplace Survey. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.ideapaint.com/wp-content/uploads/IdeaPaint_Functional_Workplace_Survey_2014.pdf