Using space to support collaboration
So what is collaboration?
According to M-W’s dictionary, collaboration is ‘the work and activity of a number of persons who individually contribute toward the efficiency of the whole’.
Collaboration is viewed as a very important employee behaviour that is critical to the businesses success and is considered to be one of the most important aspects of office design. We often hear “we need a collaboration area”; well what do you need a collaboration area for? It’s more than just providing a breakout area and open space for employees to work in. Productive and meaningful work collaboration is not about meetings in a boardroom, but opportunities for people to work together to focus on something: creating, improving, building.
The danger of focussing only on creating a “collaboration environment” is that the balance of the other spaces essential for innovation may be overlooked. For example, an office where there is nowhere to go to focus on individual tasks leads to reduced productivity and people seeking out ‘quiet space’ to go to ‘think’.
Do you provide space in your office for people to retreat and relax?
The right mix of spaces encourages people to stay in the office, instead of leaving for coffee bars, home or spaces away from the main office environment – and when well-designed, they orchestrate impromptu, informal interactions away from desks – which can lead to some of the best types of collaborative exchange.
When you get collaboration right it can boost productivity as well as company culture, enabling people to work more productively and effectively. It’s important to note also that some of the most successful collaboration spaces evolve from existing behaviour, so be on the lookout for those successful spaces, learn from them and ask your employees what type of spaces would make them more effective and innovative.
The progression of collaboration:
With the rise of the millennial generation and technology, the environments in which we work are shifting. But, across industries, collaboration and space required for collaboration mean very different things depending on where you work. According to HBR “Consequently, no matter how precisely we design office space to create collisions, the design is incomplete if it doesn’t take into account digital work and collaboration that are independent of space and time and for which immediacy is more important.”
The biggest mistake companies can make today is to assume they need the same type of collaboration setup as their neighbour. The type of collaboration activities for a law firm will be totally different from that of a collaborative discussion at an IT development company. When planning a re-design, most elements in the workspace are alike for most organisations. The differentiating factor is the balance of elements within the space, how their physical-spatial relationship supports staff interaction, and how that design supports the organisation’s culture and identity.
One principle that’s become generally accepted is that collaborative working fosters more creative ideas, and ultimately leads to the innovation companies are after. As a result, companies are doing everything they can to create a collaborative workspace environment that encourages creative thinking and innovation. It is important to realize that there’s more to creating a successful collaborative workspace design than just adding more open space. The workspace should support collaborative activities, making it easy, natural and comfortable for employees to work together.
Tips to boost collaboration in your workspace:
Planning a workspace for collaboration involves bringing together all the important elements that contribute to a successful collaborative workspace, including:
- Think about how, when and where collaboration happens in your organisation. Is it at the desk? Should it be at the desk? Is it at a specific collaborative zone or setting? Is the space located where people are likely to make use of it?
- Is the space designed for its intended usage? Collaboration? Does it provide adequate acoustic control?
- Is the space a comfortable place to work? Is the temperature comfortable? Is the lighting adequate? Does the space inspire creativity?