How Office Spaces Can Inspire Collaboration
Since the Covid-19 pandemic forced teams to work from home, and remote or hybrid working has become the norm in many workplaces, we've seen a growing interest in the purpose of the modern office. The pandemic proved to many of us that our jobs can be done effectively from home, with Zoom calls and Slack messages helping us stay connected to our coworkers.
However, a study of Microsoft workers in the first half of 2020 found that remote work had led to real challenges for collaboration and communication. 'Firm-wide remote work caused the collaboration network of workers to become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts,' the authors of the study wrote.
It's clear that working together in an office space can be very beneficial to collaboration, but how exactly can we ensure that our spaces foster teamwork and creativity? Let's take a closer look at how your physical workplace can inspire collaboration.
Collaboration in the workplace
The physical layout and design of the building where you work can have a real impact on collaboration and productivity. An old-fashioned workplace layout with cubicles or private offices that physically separate team members mean that they are unlikely to engage in collaborative work towards a common goal or have those chance spontaneous encounters in the office that lead to great ideas.
Open plan offices are a good start for fostering teamwork, but keep in mind that just because everyone is in the same room doesn't mean that they'll find it easy to work together. Big quiet spaces where people don't feel comfortable bouncing around ideas can be detrimental to collaboration. This is why it's a good idea to have casual collaborative spaces or huddle rooms away from the desks to ensure team members have somewhere more private to work together.
Design elements like bright colours, fun and inspiring art, soft textures, and even leafy plants can make an environment more welcoming for teamwork. Moreover, access to technology such as big screens for presentations can be great for group work, although keep in mind that many teams may prefer using a whiteboard, markers, and sticky notes for more informal teamwork sessions.
How to make your office more collaborative
Here are a few ways you can make the office space you rent or own more friendly to collaborative team behaviour.
Break down barriers
Dreary office cubicles may mostly be a thing of the past these days, with the majority of office buildings opting for spacious open plan designs, but cubicles aren't the only barriers to collaboration your office might have. Think about the physical and behavioural barriers that influence the collaborative work and chance encounters in your office.
For example, perhaps you have a big plant that brings a lovely biophilic touch to the space, but it inconveniently creates a barrier between team members. Unable to chat around the big leafy fronds, casual collaboration may stagnate for the people seated at these desks. With a huge plant in the way, they probably won't reach over to their coworkers on the other side to share ideas or ask questions, limiting the chance of successful collaboration. Instead, consider moving the plant to a new location where it won't physically separate employees.
Another way to break down barriers and create a more collaborative space is by considering the flow of movement around the office. For example, perhaps the layout of the space means that people never tend to walk past a particular part of the building. This limits the possibilities of chance encounters for the employees who work in those areas. When team members are physically separated from their coworkers, it's less likely that somebody will walk past and share a helpful piece of advice or ask a thoughtful question that will inspire better work. If your team is physically separated in this way, it can be helpful to rearrange the office or to implement hot desks to ensure nobody is left out.
Put furniture in dead space
Dead spaces are the parts of your property that you're not making the most of; the corners with no furniture or the boring areas where people walk through but never stop. Even teams with a tiny workspace can probably think of a corner or two that is underutilised because of the lack of furniture or visual appeal.
To encourage more chance encounters and informal meetings, placing some sofas, beanbags, or cushions in an otherwise unused part of the office can work wonders. A comfy corner by the window, for example, might become the favourite location of team members who need to quickly brainstorm ideas or talk through solutions to a problem before presenting back to the rest of the group.
Making these spaces look cosy and appealing with comfy furniture, fun colours and designs, or soft and welcoming textures can go a long way to encourage their use. Think about it: are you more likely to enjoy an informal ideation session with a colleague at the same boring desk where you've spent your whole afternoon or in the big yellow bean bags in a corner of the office?
Fill your space with art
'We're a brand new startup, we can't afford art,' we hear you say. Don't fret; it's not like your office needs an expensive piece of art to show your prestige. The point of having art in your office isn't to show off your good taste -- it's to make the space visually stimulating and show your team that you value creativity. This art doesn't have to be expensive, but it does need to be unique and fun.
To bring creativity to your office space, consider commissioning a local art student to paint a mural on one of your walls. Colourful murals with lots of smaller details or interesting abstract shapes are a great way to stimulate the team's creativity and collaborative skills.
Encourage employees to leave their desks and move around
This might seem counterintuitive at first; if you want employees to collaborate why would you try to make them leave their workspace?
However, there's a very good reason behind this. People tend not to be their most creative or collaborative when sitting behind the same desk every single day. They might only speak to the few coworkers that sit immediately around them and barely interact with team members sitting farther away. The likelihood of those chance encounters that get the creative juices flowing is low when people sit at the same desk every day.
To encourage people to move around and interact with other people from different teams or parts of the business, there are two great strategies. Firstly, you might choose to implement a workplace hot desk policy where people work from a different desk every day. This means that they get a chance to talk to different people and collaborate with individuals they would never usually work with. Even simply overhearing a conversation from some coworkers they don't usually talk to can be a great way to spark spontaneous interactions and collaborations.
Another way to get people to leave their desks is investing in great social and break-out spaces in your office. With informal collaborative spaces where individuals want to spend time, employees will be more likely to leave their desks and have those beneficial spontaneous interactions.
Ask employees what they want from the office design
Of course, your collaborative workspace will never be a success unless you get opinions and buy-in from employees themselves. Share a survey with your team or ask employees in 1-2-1s what could help them increase collaboration. By gathering data, you can ensure that you design an office space that fosters collaboration and productivity in the right ways for your team.
Getting feedback from employees about any changes you implement is also important. Why isn't anyone using that high-tech collaboration space filled with huge screens? Perhaps your team feels that they collaborate better when everyone is working with pens and a big sheet of paper for mind mapping, employees might tell you.
Or, why aren't people choosing to do collaborative work on the sofas you put in the corner of the room for that purpose? Employees might admit that the proximity to their coworkers' desks makes them not want to talk loudly and freely in a space where everyone is listening. With this feedback in mind, you might consider creating huddle rooms elsewhere on the property for a more private collaborative environment.
Overall, getting employee input at the beginning of the redesign process is just as important as getting their feedback throughout because this will allow you to create a space that works for everyone.
Move to a new collaborative workspace
If your current office space is no longer working for you, a new flexible workspace may inject new creativity and collaboration into your business. A few great collaborative workspace options include coworking spaces, serviced and semi-served offices, and managed offices.
Coworking spaces are some of the best workspaces for spontaneous collaboration and creativity due to their sociable and informal nature. In a coworking space, you may rent dedicated desks, meaning that your team has the same desks in the space, or rent hot desks, which means you can move around to a different spot every day. Coworking office spaces often also have meeting rooms and great break-out areas which can be great for teamwork and skill sharing.
Serviced offices or semi-serviced offices are another great option due to their all-inclusive rent package with access to meeting rooms and break-out areas. With a serviced office, your team will have a private office which is fully equipped with everything you need for great work, including desks, chairs, high-speed internet, and more. They often have private or communal social break-out areas which may be shared with the other teams that rent offices in the building. These spaces are great for those informal team collaboration sessions.
Alternatively a managed office rental is perfect if you want to personalise the layout and office design to your tastes while also enjoying a hassle-free and flexible lease. Managed offices are a compromise between the independence and customisability of choosing to rent a traditional office property and the flexibility of a serviced office space. You can specify the exact layout and design you want before your team moves in and the provider will organise everything you need to make the location perfect for your needs.
If you want to increase collaboration and creativity in your team, the physical workspace is a great place to start. Just making a few changes to the office space can have a significant impact on the way employees collaborate and interact. Whether it's installing more art in the office, breaking down barriers, or providing more collaborative spaces, there are many ways that you can use office design to encourage people to work better together.
Moving to a new flexible office space is another great way to increase collaboration and creativity in your business. A change of space can be stimulating for creativity and the amazing break-out spaces and collaborative areas provided by serviced offices, semi-serviced offices, managed offices, and coworking spaces can make your team love working collaboratively.