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Creating a Collaborative Office Space - Start Here

The days of cubicle farms and divided offices are numbered, if not a distant memory. Companies are increasingly opting for more open, fluid workspaces, complete with shared tables, comfortable couches and cozy reading nooks.

Why the surge in popularity of this type of design? How do today’s employers stand to benefit from breaking down barriers and redefining the modern office?

Many forward-thinking organizations are recognizing the value of collaboration in the workplace, as two (or two dozen) heads are better than one when it comes to sharing ideas and innovations. And these days, collaboration means more than just assembling in a conference room for an hour-long brainstorming session. Many firms are completely redesigning their workspaces to promote more fluid communication and synergy among employees.

In 2013, Yahoo made news by revoking its employees’ ability to work remotely. The rationale behind the decision was that some of the best exchanges of information and insights occur during unplanned interactions in hallways, lobbies, cafes and shared office spaces, to which telecommuting team members are not privy.

We’re not saying that every company should take that extreme measure. However, if you’re looking to make your office intentionally more productive through a collaborative work environment, here’s where you should start: first, let’s define it.

What is a collaborative office space?

Hint: It’s more than just removing walls!

A collaborative office space is generally one that incorporates areas for small teams to freely share knowledge and ideas, balanced by places for focused work; in other words, a place for people to work together toward a common goal.

In a recent report by Steelcase, the research and furniture company took a deep dive into how modern businesses are redefining their spaces with collaboration in mind. Per the report, organizations should consider these seven key concepts when planning collaborative spaces:

Rolling collaboration: Today’s employees should have the opportunity to interact and share knowledge throughout the work day in various modes and formats, ranging from formal, planned meetings to impromptu face-to-face chats to online instant messaging. Collaboration should flow into day-to-day tasks, enhancing rather than interfering with them. Employees should have the necessary tools within a flexible workspace to accomplish this rolling collaboration as they work.

Density: Collaborative spaces should thrive on the energy of their employees, promoting a natural flow of visual and verbal communication. You can create this energy by remembering that one person does not equal one desk.

Layering: This idea involves the blending of digital and analog information to ensure that everyone is kept up-to-date on project progress.

Zoning: Well-designed collaborative spaces should include zones for focused work, social interaction, collaborative meetings, speakerphone calls and employee downtime. Open areas should be balanced by enclosed spaces.

Proximity: Instead of sitting at assigned desks and cubicles, employees should be encouraged to sit in various spots around the office for a better flow of ideas. Meeting rooms, planning areas and information centers should be located near employee work areas.

Tools: Workers should have access to the technologies, data, equipment and other resources to collaborate effectively.

Social: With the idea that socially engaged employees are ultimately more creative and productive, a collaborative environment should be conducive to informal communication.

By combining open spaces, focused work areas, visual aids, and efficient tools and technologies in the workplace, modern employers can help their staff work together toward a common goal.

Benefits of a collaborative office space

Collaborative work environments are more than social opportunities—they’re tools that increase productivity through the efficient sharing of information and ideas. When applied to a work space, this type of an environment has been proven to:

  • boost productivity
  • accelerate project progress
  • enable better problem solving

According to a study by MIT cited in a 2013 report, researchers were able to predict 35% of a team’s performance based on how frequently—and how well—they interacted with their fellow co-workers. The greater the number and quality of the in-person encounters, the more productive and effective the team’s efforts were.

In addition, a survey by Harvard Business Review showed that employees thrived in collaborative workspaces because they felt more in control of their jobs, viewed their work as more meaningful and felt more ingrained in a work community.

Key features of collaborative office spaces

By now, you probably have a pretty good grasp of the definition of a collaborative workspace—but what are the specific elements of such a space? An effective collaborative office space is likely to include any or all of these features:

  • Open spaces connected by highly trafficked conduits, such as hallways and staircases, that promote “bump-ins” among employees but avoid walls that separate people
  • Open, distraction-free tables in central areas for impromptu meetings and to foster creativity
  • Different types of seating to suit different preferences (some people work best at desks, others prefer couches)
  • Common gathering spots throughout the office, where employees can socialize, share information and boost one another’s morale
  • Larger office spaces that accommodate more than one person
  • Designated “thinking” areas that encourage focused work near others, yet provide the privacy one requires.

Many collaborative spaces also incorporate plants, natural light and splashes of color to foster energy and creativity. They also offer easy access to the tools and resources required to efficiently share ideas and information.

Effective collaboration design in action

Definitions and studies are helpful, but the best illustration of collaborative design is shown through examples of real-world companies that have actually implemented it. Let’s take a look at how several modern organizations have incorporated collaborative design to achieve impressive results.

Pixar

Steve Jobs’ redesign of the Pixar campus incorporated a large central atrium with a café, theater, fitness center and recreation areas, which fostered unplanned interactions between employees. According to Pixar’s chief creative officer, John Lasseter, Jobs’ goal was not only met, but exceeded. “Steve’s theory worked from day one,” says Lasseter. “I’ve never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one.”

Google

In New York, the Google campus is designed so that no-one is ever more than 150 feet away from food, whether it’s a restaurant, cafeteria or micro-kitchen. As a result, employees regularly bumped into members of other teams, engaging in communications that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred.

Boeing

When Boeing implemented a collaborative design as its Renton, Washington manufacturing plant, the space included shared buildings, “communal knowledge cafés” and ample technology tools. Benefits included higher levels of employee satisfaction, greater motivation, more effective problem-solving capabilities and improved rapport between team members.

Ready, set, collaborate!

Now that you know the proven benefits of collaborative workspaces, how can you get started with building your own?

  • 1. Create a detailed road map of your goals. What do you want your workspace to accomplish?
  • 2. Determine an optimal location that is well-suited to both your employees and your target market.
  • 3. Plan the interior design of the space, leveraging best practices for office collaboration.
  • 4. Create a sense of community and culture through design, technology, gathering spaces, visual displays and social activities.
  • 5. Provide the amenities and resources employees need to collaborate productively.

Ready to talk about taking the first step?

You don’t have to figure this all out on your own. If you’re ready to start reaping the benefits of a more collaborative workspace, Our designers can help you create a plan that is conducive to more engaged, synergistic teams.

Schedule an appointment with one of our specialists by calling 877.779.3409, or fill out our online form for more information.

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