How to design a space where people can collaborate, communicate and innovate
Collaboration makes up one of the most important value-adding activities in the workplace today. Yet companies continue to struggle with developing workspaces that support this value-added interaction.
In fact, many contemporary workplaces have a physical layout that makes it impossible for people to cooperate. Long linear hallways, several floors and private office rooms make up some of the biggest barriers for interaction.
Research demonstrates that more than 50 meters between people eliminates any hope of communication and collaboration between them (“Allen-effect”). So even though employees are aware of qualified project- collaboration partners within the organization – the distant location discourages them in reaching out.
Workspace influences our interactions
People have a basic need to feel part of a shared community. A simple act of greeting a colleague can reinforce a person’s experience of community-feel. Sense of community is one of the most significant but underrated contributors to employee satisfaction, morale and work performance.
The people we greet and interact with are to a great extend selected by the physical workplace structures. Unless top management prioritizes the strategic workplace design and the organization provides spaces that encourage interaction between divisions, floors and distances the knowledge-sharing and social relationships within the company will be limited.
Open spaces encourage social and formal interaction
Organizational analyses demonstrate that people, who collaborate in shared work environments during any given day, will have more spontaneous and ad hoc face-to-face meetings and less pre-planned traditional meetings. Moreover, integrating spatial facilities in the interiors, such as informal meeting places, lounges and cafes will open the locations for social and formal interaction.
Thus, these people will be in touch with more colleagues and extend their network within organization than if they were bound by a private office. In fact, 26 % of people working in private offices have no face-to-face contact with other colleagues throughout a workday. The opposite speaks for itself; organizational research shows, that employees working in activity based work environments with shared workstations have the largest professional, interdisciplinary network out in the organization.
Workspaces do not only foster social relations; they also reinforce them. When colleagues are in the same office, the visual access between them increases, the walking distance is minimized, and the communication intensifies.
In this context, interactions are both influenced by proximity and convenience principle. It is convenient to be in proximity, both in terms of getting the job done and building social relationships.
Support the coincidental meetings
When designing for collaboration and relationship building – challenging the ingroups is of tremendous importance. Research shows that peripheral relations (so-called weak ties) – provide access to a greater amount of knowledge than the ingroups (the strong ties).
The case is that our knowledge doesn’t differ significantly from knowledge of the colleagues that we frequently are in touch with. Colleagues that we collaborate with occasional however, tend to have knowledge and perspectives that are radically different from ours.
To gain competitive advantage from collaboration, it becomes important to create spaces that enhance coincidental meetings with weak tie colleagues and help employees to break away from the strong ties.
If combined with activity based-work environments, where employees are not tied to their workstations and the various day-to-day activities are located in optimized office spaces, there is no doubt that organizations have plenty of opportunities to build admirable networking cultures and contribute to an increase in the organizational performance.