With the rise of remote and hybrid work, providing employees with the right collaboration space is more important than ever.
Yes, they may be using the physical office less than in the past.
So when they do use it, it should foster collaboration—both ‘official’ brainstorming, along with all the informal interactions that help enhance company culture.
In this article, we explore how to evolve your physical work environment into a more collaborative space, helping to support all the social and shared aspects of in-person work.
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Perhaps counterintuitively, the future of remote working will be one in which physical collaboration spaces are more important, not less.
Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve learned that good digital workplace solutions and the right communication tools can facilitate virtual collaboration.
But while the majority of workers now want hybrid work schedules, the majority also want to spend more in-person time with their colleagues (65% according to Microsoft’s famous 2021 Work Trend Index).
People still look to the office as a space to see their colleagues and mentors. They can work together on collaborative projects and enjoy the camaraderie and socializing that comes from being together.
In short, for many organizations, a connected workplace isn’t quite enough. And most employees still come into the physical office at least part of the time. Specifically in order to enjoy all these benefits of co-working and in-person collaboration.
Consider that the amount of time people spend on collaboration rose by 50% or more in the past two decades. Expect creating better physical spaces for collaborative work to remain a focus for the foreseeable future.
Companies are trying to strike a balance between getting flexibility that works for their business model, and allowing for collaboration, camaraderie, and team building for their employees. Luke Anderson, OfficeSpace VP, Product & Strategy
Companies are trying to strike a balance between getting flexibility that works for their business model, and allowing for collaboration, camaraderie, and team building for their employees.
Assuming you’re using good workplace design, the benefits of collaboration spaces run the gamut from more productivity to more employee empowerment in the workplace.
Consider that boosting collaboration skills—specifically the use of collaboration tools—can also boost productivity by 20-25%, according to McKinsey research.
Meanwhile, 86% of employees and employers alike say lack of collaboration is the main reason for workplace failures.
Moreover, Zoom fatigue is real. And not everyone feels comfortable with video conferencing (which may disadvantage those who are interviewing for a new position remotely).
When you’re in the office together, it’s easier to tell if someone is available to chat based on body language. You’ll see if they’re heads-down and best left undisturbed, versus when it might be a good time to pop in and ask your questions.
It’s also easier to linger in the hallway after a meeting, keeping the conversation going with the right people.
These are the types of interactions that are missed in remote work. They not only contribute to a more flexible work culture, but also help boost company-wide knowledge.
They can help new hires find mentors, while also helping everyone build relationships that help them feel more engaged and actually perform better.
Coming into the office can also allow people to interact with team members in different departments. This helps to increase company knowledge and hopefully spark creativity.
For example, it never hurts to have Marketing sit near a Development team. This allows Marketing to get more ‘unofficial’ insight into the products they’re actually trying to sell.
This is why Steve Jobs famously introduced the ‘no silo’ rule when he returned to Apple. This created a process that would ultimately lead to the iPod (and of course well beyond). According to Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacon, he pushed teams in all departments “to work as one cohesive and flexible company.”
For all these reasons, companies are now looking at new ways to create new, more inspiring collaboration spaces.
Yes, 70% of offices already use an open layout, which was once thought to boost collaboration.
But open layouts aren’t without their flaws. For example, they actually lead to 70% fewer face-to-face interactions. So they’re no longer the only way companies think about fostering more teamwork and collaboration.
In fact, many cutting edge companies are now moving away from open spaces. They’re moving into more unique and tailor-made uses of their corporate real estate.
Great ideas can’t happen in a cramped, drab, dysfunctional office space.Brad True, The Cannon
Great ideas can’t happen in a cramped, drab, dysfunctional office space.
Like the name suggests, a collaborative space is any space designed to foster collaboration. This includes war rooms, huddle rooms, conference rooms, board rooms, game rooms, and even the break room or kitchenette.
Companies are using lots of flex room ideas to craft unique spaces outside of what we typically think of as a ‘meeting room.’
Meanwhile, a meeting room is typically designed specifically for formal meetings.
It, too, is a collaborative space. But one that is more traditional in scope (think your classic long table with chairs and a whiteboard).
Good office design will now usually include these traditional meeting rooms, as well as more creative collaborative spaces to encourage a wider range of employee interactions.
As more and more companies permanently adopt hybrid work models as part of their return to the office strategies, creating the right types of spaces to foster collaboration are often top of mind.
“The office is a place that people now choose to come to,” says Maya Ketter, OfficeSpace VP of Client Success. “They have reasons why they come in. Understanding those reasons and making sure there’s a place for them to actually use the office based on them is key.”
In other words, wide open spaces and large conference rooms that no one actually uses are becoming a thing of the past.
Moreover, since the pandemic, many companies have been repurposing their real estate. This includes often removing seats to make more collaboration zones and free working zones.
Whenever they are making these types of changes and trying to enhance collaborative work, companies should pay careful attention to the needs of their employees, and the types of interactions they’re trying to facilitate
Specifically, modern meeting room design should pay careful attention to the following four areas.
The fanciest conference room ideas won’t do much if team members show up to work and don’t have anywhere nice to sit. Whether you’re using an open office or any other office design, good collaboration only happens when employees have the right physical spaces.
When thinking about creating a more collaborative office, keep two things in mind when designing the physical space... Comfort and workplace strategy.
Comfort will likely be the easier of the two to nail down.
We all know that ergonomic chairs (Steelcase is always a go-to), along with comfy sofas and some beautiful potted plants, make for a more inviting workspace.
So if you want your people to duck into a huddle room for spontaneous brainstorming sessions, then make sure that huddle room is inviting. Ensure it has good chairs and lots of natural light.
If you want people to congregate and form better relationships in the lunchroom, then make sure the pantries are stocked with healthy snacks.
And if you want people to spend more time working on specific projects together, make sure you’ve built a great war room equipped with the basics—white boards and good seating—and the extras—the latest video conferencing tech and Zoom meeting calendar integration.
Note that when their physical office is not close to certain amenities, many companies bring the amenities to them. For example, bringing in lunch can be a great perk to attract more folks into the physical space.
Ultimately, making the office more inviting is one of the best ways to improve employee experience, encourage more people to use the office, and therefore create more in-person group work. Following up this comfort with the right workplace strategy can be more challenging—but just as valuable.
At the heart of any good collaboration is the right collaboration strategy in the workplace.
You want it to be effortless for employees to flow between different modes of working. This helps to make it easy to collaborate (and then switch to individual tasks as necessary).
Specifically, agile working, activity based working, and office neighborhoods all require careful planning to get office design just right.
For example, activity based workspace design requires different zones in the office for different types of work.
Ideally, these zones will be based on good workplace reports and analytics. This should show how employees are actually interacting with their space.
Meanwhile, office neighborhood examples often require even more planning to get the neighborhood layout right.
And regardless of the workplace strategy, all employees will need the right floor plan and workstations to do their best work
As we’ll explore next, they also need the right hybrid workplace technology to collaborate, innovate, and really use the physical office the way it’s intended.
We’ve all heard it by now: Every company is a tech company.
The impact of technology in the workplace is almost limitless. And it’s only growing, as video conferencing and other collaboration technology powered our pandemic-driven shift to remote and hybrid work. Providing the right technology is the key to empowering employees in both their collaborative and their heads-down work.
When it comes to creating effective collaboration spaces, getting the technology right is critical. That’s because, with the right technology at work, employees are 230% more engaged and 85% more likely to stay in their position for more than three years (critical as talent retention is becoming more important than ever).
Specifically, to stay connected, productive, and engaged, collaboration spaces need to be accompanied by the following technology.
They need desk booking software that can help them find the right desk for their given task, such as one in their given working neighborhood.
Employees also need good meeting room booking software, so they don’t wind up spending 30 minutes a day looking for meeting spaces (like they used to before the pandemic). Good room booking options can also dramatically help reduce the incidence of ghost rooms.
OfficeSpace Software has recently added new features to further enhance these booking tools for the physical office.
For example, the OfficeSpace mobile app now offers push notifications for desk booking, so that everyone can see right away whether a desk is booked, canceled, or changed.
Workplace Slack and Teams integrations make life even easier for everyone, so people can see what rooms are available and book them directly in the workplace application they already know and use.
And room booking software also integrates with Microsoft Office and the Google browser, helping to simplify the booking process. It gives the meeting organizer options for which room to book based on the locations people are working from and which desk they already have booked, so they can book the most convenient room for everyone invited to the meeting.
Finally, when considering tech for the new hybrid office, note that wayfinding signs and systems are even more important in a hybrid space. People who use the office less will need more help navigating it.
And workplaces may want to invest in smart technology, including IoT sensors, which can give them better insight into how employees are actually interacting with their collaboration spaces. They can use this to help calculate room capacity and make more data-informed decisions when creating any new spaces. Ideally, most badge sensors will integrate with room and desk booking as well.
Ultimately, to encourage more collaboration, companies should look for technologies that work together to ensure that nothing stands between employees and the comfortable, well-designed collaborative spaces they need.
There’s a natural rhythm to collaboration.Christine Congdon, Donna Flynn, and Melanie Redman, Harvard Business Review
There’s a natural rhythm to collaboration.
Thanks to all the lessons learned from the pandemic and the Great Resignation, we now know that autonomy and flexibility are the name of the game. Employees are no longer willing to work for companies that micromanage their time and efforts.
Of course, flexibility has many benefits, not the least of which is its positive impact on employee well-being. We know that employee experience scores dramatically jump from 45% to 74% when employees are given complete control over when, where, and how they work.
Applying this autonomy to the physical environment, employees should be given a variety of well-designed spaces to choose from. Whether they need to sit with colleagues or sit by themselves.
They’ll have the ability to easily book into these spaces, using the technology we previously discussed in step two.
And their feedback should be solicited whenever leadership is looking to redesign or even move their real estate portfolio.
Finally, investing in the fanciest, most cutting edge collaboration space is only half the battle.
In any hybrid workplace, in-person collaboration only happens when people are actually in the office at the same time.
Like a frustrated hybrid worker recently told Vox, succinctly summing up one of the biggest challenges of hybrid working, “if I go into the office and there are people but none of them are on my team, I don’t gain anything besides a commute.”
Companies can address this problem in one of two ways.
They can mandate what days hybrid workers must come into the office.
But remember that employee experience only goes up when employees have control over their schedule. Mandating what days employees have to come in is the opposite of giving them the autonomy they’re craving.
Plus, requiring everyone to be in the office at the same time won’t help when it comes to plans to reduce real estate.
So the second option is to provide good collaborative spaces, while also providing great visibility. In other words, employees should be able to easily see who is in the office (now and in the future), so that they can schedule their own office days accordingly.
OfficeSpace provides this visibility with a visual directory that is accessible via mobile and desktop. It gives employees an easy-to-use interactive floor map. They can use it to book workspaces and connect with the colleagues and resources they need.
A good collaboration space is one that is carefully designed with employee experience in mind. It requires the right technology to make it flexible and accessible, along with comfortable seating and workstations. In any office, employees should be able to easily flow from one space to the next, depending on their given tasks.
The more companies are able to use data and solicit employee feedback to build their collaboration spaces, the better.
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Photos: Delmaine Donson, FG Trade, Pekic, PeopleImages