How Your Office Helps You Work Together

By Andy Will

For a few years now, collaboration has been one of the most used buzz words in organisations around the world. Collaboration means different things to different organisations, however most businesses have one thing in common - they would like to collaborate more. A recent Deloitte study identified that approximately 30% of respondents said that they would like more collaboration in their organisation. Although everyone is chasing more of it, the collaboration which is already taking place is having a huge impact on the Australian economy adding more than $46bn of value each year.

An organisation's workspace design can dictate how and how much its employees are able to collaborate. A well-designed workspace can help facilitate collaboration through lowering the barriers to employee interactions and providing readily available spaces which support collaboration.

So how do different elements of a workspace assist in fostering collaboration? 

Break-out Space/Kitchen

Break-out spaces (space where people can get away from their workstation and either enjoy some downtime or work more casually) are part of many workspaces these days. These spaces are often a hot bed of collaboration as the change in environment when people step away from their workstation allows them to think differently and act accordingly. The conversations which are generally held in break-out spaces (also known as "water-cooler" conversations) are ad-hoc and unplanned, but they can certainly address work issues and as a result often alleviate the need for meetings.

Meeting Rooms

It should seem pretty obvious that meeting rooms play a major part in how an organisation collaborates as they are a key place where people come together. In addition to just providing a location for people to meet, when people step into a meeting room their mentality shifts from one of just getting things done at their workstation to being ready to share and collaborate. However, in order to maximise collaboration in the 21st century meetings rooms must be equipped with the right technology and tools such as WiFi, smart whiteboard, video-conferencing facilities etc.

Open Plan Offices

Most organisations have at least some of their office space designed in an open plan configuration and there are pros and cons to this use of space. One of the biggest benefits offered by open plan offices is the fact they support collaboration primarily by lowering the physical and perceived barriers to the activities which foster collaboration, most notably face to face communication. Team members have instant access to the rest of their team which allows them to collaborate on their terms without having to plan how it will take place. With all staff being able to collaborate as they please, a collaborative culture can quickly be generated with less structure than may otherwise be required.

Small Offices

On the face of it small or private offices may not seem to actively support collaboration, however these offices certainly have a part to play in developing a collaborative culture. In cases where a small team is able to share a private office, away from other staff, it allows this team to establish a sub-culture where they can collaborate on their own terms and not be bound by some of the rules of the wider team. Even in instances where staff work from private offices by themselves and are 'cutoff' from the team, a small office can actually encourage collaboration as the people who work from them are likely to be more engaged with the team when they step into meetings or other settings where the ability to collaborate is required, as they know they have a haven to return to when 'the work needs to be done'.

Hallways, Reception, Foyer etc

Spaces such as hallways, reception and foyers are often underrated in office space design, however they can also support collaboration as they are places where people meet in passing and can have casual conversations relating to projects and other tasks they may be working together on.

Workspace design can have an effect on the way an organisation collaborates and the ideal design will differ greatly from business to business. However one takeaway from the Deloitte survey is the fact that collaboration is one of the most important elements of the way a successful organisation operates. When employees collaborate:

- They work 15% faster, on average;

- 73% do better work;

- 60% are more innovative;

- 56% are more satisfied.

 

Source: Deloitte Access Economics, The Collaborative Economy, Summary Findings 2014

 

Andy Will is the General Manager of Wilkin Group and works with organisations and individuals on a daily basis to develop workspace solutions which support the way they choose to work.

Andy can be contact at awill@wilkingroup.com.au