This article appears in Summer 2015 B2B.
Organizations today encourage their people to work together. In fact, they often provide areas in the office in order to move from solitary, repetitive tasks to collaborative, creative work. These spaces are used by a variety of individuals and teams within the organizations. The best ones accommodate specific collaborative activities and support change daily, even hourly.
Younger workers seem especially comfortable with this style of working—perhaps thanks to the teaching methods in schools during the past 15 to 20 years. They have become accustomed to more collaborative experiences as a result.
Shifting work cultures, along with technology advancements like wireless Internet, allow people to work virtually anywhere. It wasn’t long ago that huddling around the water cooler was viewed as simply socializing. Today’s organizations design workplaces to encourage this kind of behavior, realizing that social interactions support behaviors, attitudes, and goals that lead to trust, teamwork, and, in turn, innovation.
Projects often move faster, and are more successful, when people share knowledge and experience, get instant feedback, and profit from diverse ideas and points of view. Collaboration also is a great way to pass information in the workplace from one generation to another. This knowledge sharing will become increasingly important as the baby-boomer generation quickly approaches retirement. Many of these “assets” will walk out the door retaining valuable know-how unless it is shared.
Collaborative spaces support a variety of situations. Here are a few that are in many workspaces today.
Commons areas: The central gathering place in an organization, such as a community room or cafeteria, can promote informal, spontaneous communication. These rooms often feature an open meeting spot so employees don’t have to worry about reserving a space in advance—preserving the spontaneity of these meetings.
The areas can be furnished with anything from lounge furniture to cafeteria-style tables and chairs, depending on workers’ needs.
Project rooms: Dedicated project rooms can be ideal for teams working on long-term assignments. They are popular with groups engaged in new product development and prototyping. New members learn faster by modeling others’ behavior. In this type of forum, questions can be addressed immediately, rather than waiting on formal meetings or processes.
Project rooms should provide space for visual displays of information, including timelines, to-do lists, shared goals, inspiration, progress, and knowledge. People should be able to rearrange the furniture easily, but not walk off with it. It should be equipped with the display tools and technology needed, as well as a system for storing and securing the group’s stuff.
Informal meeting areas: Informal meeting areas can be the most effective. Their placement, and the degree to which people feel free to use them, can have a dramatic impact on their use. Place these drop-in areas at strategic locations—near the watering hole, the top of the stairs, entrances to team areas—that invite people to have spontaneous collaboration.
Collaboration is nothing new to offices today, yet it is becoming increasingly important to “get it right”—matching the space to the work and activities it needs to support. Various kinds of work bring different requirements for privacy, spontaneity, and technology. The statement “form follows function” rings true here.