@GSKrasle a valuable part of a lab is an adequate supply of fundamental components and parts, and, especially, a good bone-yard, junk-box (bin, heap, room, hall, building), to provide inspiration, ideas, AND materiel.
Truer words were never spoken. I once worked in a place like that. Bins full of every value of resistor, capacitor, inductor, many transistors, every type of TTL chip, tools, scopes, and even enough scope probes to go around for everybody. Then the investors pulled the plug...
The next place had a room full of standard parts - resistors, caps, chips. Then a new dipstick manager took over and threw everything out because it was a "waste of space". This was the same jerk who stopped ordering 0.5mm pencil leads because we now had CAE.
For me, it's not so much the physical or aesthetic environment, but what's in it, especially the social/psychological environment. If the space contains Bad Management, creativity, and even "bolts in holes" productivity, is discouraged, regardless of the number of hours people voluntarily or coercedly contribute. Hours worked is only a correlate of productivity when it comes to creative endeavour!
Appreciation, encouragement, collaboration and respect are cheap, but very powerful.
I could ramble on about Social Engineering/Management and how much it can contribute, but, leaving aside all that, I would say that purely physical things that help ME to be productive are those that provide stimulation, inspiration and convenience.
Coffee/soda/smnacks are nice, but give me the opportunity to see some interesting projects-in-progress, regardless of whether work-related or home-based. Opportunities for collaboration!
A well-appointed accessible lab area without a stifling lot of staked-out "territiory" is essential, and a valuable part of a lab is an adequate supply of fundamental components and parts, and, especially, a good bone-yard, junk-box (bin, heap, room, hall, building), to provide inspiration, ideas, AND materiel. Of course, I am known for my test jigs, aids, and equipment, and my profligate storage. To me, neat-freaks are The Enemy.
But a separate office/desk-space for writing, reading and concentration is important too.
And books. Yes, books. Books and catalogues, and white-papers and schematics... You know, "tech-porn!"
(Funny story that actually happened: It was "clean-out your office and put your unwanted usable stuff in the hallway" day [Garage Sale?]. I found something GOOD, proclaiming "OOO the latest 'EE Times!'" ... "Ewww: the pages are all stuck-together!" That elicited some awkrard and enthusiastic laughter, even after I tried to explain that it was simply that someone had used it to mix epoxy [which is a way better practice than using those stupid little plastic cups!].)
Engineers must work in a friendly environment to achieve the best results and it is very important to work as a team where every idea is taken into consideration. My son is an engineer and in his opinion a great engineering space must have installed Finepatiofurniture, the design is amazing and the furniture is very comfortable.
What about the location of the engineering space? middle of a dull, lifeless, soul sucking office park? or near a walkable community?
Basically, it seems like they don't want people to leave and interact outside.
As soon as the "style" starts to be the goal instead of just being the way things look, it winds up being an end in itself. Engineering is best done in areas where there are the tools to do good engineering with. Ideas may not grow in sterile surroundings, that much is certain. So the impressive buildings will indeed attract a lot of people who are attracted to that stuff, and some of them may be good engineers, and may find what they need to achieve great engineering. But it is the people, not the building, that creates the wonderful things. Forcing them into a new gilded box may or not improve what they do, but it will certainly have them thinking about how wonderful the place is. Not being in each others way is useful, but of course the circuit person does need to talk to the mechanical person or the parts won't fit.
Well...we all know that it required exquisite and expensive monument spaces like this to create companies like Facebook and Google to begin with...right?
Without these crazy expensive exercises in social engineering and interaction...where would all the great innovation come from?
Our company makes a point of putting all engineers in hardwall offices with doors which can be closed. That way you can close the door if you need to concentrate, or if you will be noisy (conference call, extended conversation, etc.) It also helps everyone control the light level and to some extent the temperature as they prefer. But there are soft seating areas scattered liberally throughout the building, and the lunch area is just down the hall, so we get a lot of opportunities for collaboration.
Thankfully, we also avoid beige in the overall color scheme. Walls are white, but with enough exceptions of bright, saturated color to keep it interesting. Hallways are generally short or curved, so you don't get that "drowning in a sea of offices" effect. The carpets, doorways, and furniture add texture. All told, it works fairly well.
I work in a business park in Silicon Valley where we have 2 story buildings with halways of offices ringing the outer part of the building and lab space in the middle - no cubicles. Most engineers share an office with another person and managers have a single office. It's nice being able to close the 8 ft tall door when you need to.
Earlier in my career I worked at a campus where the offices faced out into the lab space, making it easy to go back and forth. One engineer rigged an LED above his office door to indicate if his phone was ringing, so he could see if from the lab.
I've also worked in the classic "cube farm" with corner workstations, which makes it easy to tell if your coworkers are in their offices, but not my favorite work environment.