CEOs: Creativity springs from fun workspace

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While working on a multimillion-dollar engineering project, you hit a creative wall. Timing is tight and the deadline is two short hours away. You need a break.

That’s why the company has a swing set.

Following the lead of Google headquarters in California, several Colorado Springs companies created fun workplace environments for their employees in hopes of encouraging collaboration and innovation. Casual, fun offices result in happier employees, leaders say, and that leads to increased productivity, better ideas, lower turnover, greater creativity and a bigger bottom-line.

There’s not a lot of research yet to back up the CEOs’ beliefs that fun workplaces equal productive workplaces, according to Teresa Amabile, a business administration professor at Harvard Business School and co-author of “The Progress Principle,” about creativity at work in Business Insider.

“The theory is that open spaces that are fun, where people want to be, facilitate idea exchange,” she said in the news article. “… And none of this matters unless people feel they have meaningful work and are making progress at it. In over 30 years of research, I’ve found that people do their most creative work when they’re motivated by the work itself.”

Still, some of the city’s engineering and design firms are taking a page from Google and creating livelier spaces to work.

Cherwell Software

Cherwell co-founder and CEO Vance Brown was “very influenced” by Google and Quicken Loans workspaces when he and his team consolidated Cherwell’s offices last year from three buildings to a single, 64,000-square-foot location on Federal Drive in northern Colorado Springs.

“There’s something we need to learn — we need to set a table for fun,” Brown said while touring the new office space with his assistant, Andrea Heffernan. The game room features darts, shuffleboard and computer gaming with a large screen against one wall.

Near the swings in another section of the office stands a Lego wall. There, someone posted a photo of the CEO, and underneath, began building Brown’s likeness using Lego pieces. Brown laughed at the attempt, saying, “We don’t want to micromanage fun.”

In the employee break room, a kegerator has Little London and IPA on tap from Pikes Peak Brewing Company. The beer is available after hours.

White boards with markers throughout the office encourage employees to be creative outside their immediate workspaces.

To build a successful business, Brown says, “You have to build real trust. At high-performing companies, you need to relieve stress, and in the end, it’s about building community. When [employees] hang out is the best time to innovate.”

Outside the Cherwell office is a sand volleyball court, basketball courts and picnic tables for family barbecues. Inside is a gymnasium, complete with changing rooms, showers and lockers. Across the hall is a cafeteria, offering low-priced healthy choices, Heffernan said.

“It’s really a cool place,” she said.

And it’s all done with the goal of creating happier, more productive employees.

Home Advisor

The online provider of business leads for home improvement projects recently expanded to Colorado Springs. Its Federal Drive office opened last week.

Visitors enter the business office through the employee break room. The large room houses a ping-pong table, two pinball machines, a wall of candy, snacks and sodas for sale, refrigerators to store employee lunches and a kegerator with two Bristol brews on tap. The room’s many large windows face west with a view of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“We’re trying to attract the top-tier workforce,” said CEO Craig Smith.

Behind the receptionists’ door lies an equally colorful workplace — loud with ample laughter, music and filled with people on the phones.

Desks that can be raised and lowered to any height sit side by side, with operators of the call center each talking through a headset.

It’s noisy, but it’s fun.

“Standing desks help because you’re not supposed to be sitting all day,” said Steffanie Finkiewicz, Home Advisor public relations manager.

Walls are painted bright orange to match the company logo. The employee gymnasium features ellipticals, free weights and treadmills.

“Most of the time, you’ve got these cold cubes, kind of a stale environment separating everybody from seeing each other,” said David Jesse, who sells Home Advisor services to builders.

“When I’m on the phone with a contractor, I’ll be walking all over the entire building. It’s fun to have that freedom.”

elope

Founded by Colorado Springs natives and brothers Keith and Kevin Johnson, elope Inc. designs and manufactures colorful, whimsical hats and costumes distributed globally. The company has the licenses for Walt Disney Zootopia and the ever-popular Harry Potter series. Its local headquarters employs 50.

“We take fun seriously,” said Becca Sickbert, director of marketing, or marketer of joy as the company calls it.

Sickbert’s desk is decorated in a Star Wars theme and has handmade hats and knickknacks to remind her to be more joyful, she said.

“There’s so much personality in everyone’s workspace,” she said. “We encourage people to bring their true selves to work.”

The Johnson brothers initially wanted to create a business called Everybody’s Laughing in the World, Sickbert said, and they settled on elope, which stands for everybody’s laughing on planet Earth.

Still, elope’s goal is to conduct business “in a socially responsible way and that really is aimed at spreading joy and happiness. It’s always been about taking care of the tribe, whether it’s the customers or the people who are part of the company.”

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