Does your office have a ping-pong table? Video games? A ball-pit? Over the past couple of years, having the most unconventional, worker-friendly office has become something of a status symbol in the start-up world, to the extent that the only discernible difference between a place of business and a kindergarten classroom is the size of the chairs.
Tech giants like Google were the first to introduce these kinds of environments, and have since set the benchmark for non-traditional workplaces, where employees feel able to relax and pursue inspiration through play. But for some critics, there’s a fine line between a creative workspace and a summer camp for overgrown children.
In a recent “décor rant”, Curbed examined both sides of the argument for creative office space: “While we think offices everywhere could use a little levity, we’re not sure what is more beneficial to workers: Changing the culture of an office so that creativity is encouraged and people feel they’re operating in a productive, open environment, or adding elements reminiscent of the halcyon days of childhood to get the imagination going.”
There are rare exceptions to this trend. Amale Andraos and Dan Wood are the Workac architects behind ad agency Wieden & Kennedy’s New York office, an open-plan space which fosters collaboration but which also embodies elegance over playfulness. They believe that “creative work is play already,” and that therefore a creative workplace “does not have to disguise itself to become a playground.”
The creative workplace has become a cliché because it is immediately familiar to us. It is a natural evolution of the dot com bubble offices parodied by The Simpsons; adult playgrounds where brilliant minds could make millions in between games of pool and table tennis. But the kidult exists outside the workplace. In fact, many businesses have benefited by catering to this pervasive nostalgia for the simpler, safer feeling of childhood.
The Sunday Times’ Katie Glass argues that so-called childish pastimes function as a source of comfort and reassurance to a generation that has inherited nothing but economic strife and uncertainty. Not only that, she believes that “playtime” can be a beneficial way to build trust between co-workers and foster creativity.
At this year’s Cannes Lions Festival, Heston Blumenthal claimed that “the education system is killing creativity,” by enforcing inflexible methods of learning and punishing naivety, an important ingredient in the creative process. He called for more diverse teaching techniques which will encourage students to retain their childlike ways of thinking.
There is certainly a case to be made that getting in touch with our inner child can help us tap into the well of imagination and non-linear thinking that has been educated out of us. Children have a sense of wonder in the world, and do not dwell on limitations. As Glass puts it: “Childishness is not just regressive, it is also ambitious.”