Face-to-face collaboration may be key at certain times, like meetings and brainstorming sessions. When collaboration involves each person completing an individual set of tasks for the same project, however, working off-site may produce the best results. Forcing a graphic designer to complete a website in a noisy, crowded office when the deadline is near and they really need quiet to concentrate? Not always the best strategy. When the team’s success hinges on a job well done the first time, allow your team members to work elsewhere—perhaps a nearby coffee shop, or even from home, if necessary.
If you have one or more people working remotely to create some breathing room in the office, you’ll need some good software to help them stay in touch with each other. Programs such as HipChat will allow individual workers to ping each other with questions, send mass messages to a group or create chatrooms for specific sets of people. When the conversation will involve more than a simple back-and-forth, web conferencing software like WebEx and GoToMeeting can let them set up meetings with others from the convenience of their own cell phones or computers. Project management software, like TeamworkPM and Basecamp, can also keep workers up-to-date on the status of their tasks and the overall progress of a project.
Co-working is an arrangement in which workers from different companies share one office space, outfitted with essentials like printers, fax machines, Wi-Fi, etc. While co-working gives mobile workers and freelancers a place to call their own, it can also be a temporary solution when you have too many people and not enough space in the office. Though the practice seems to be more popular with small businesses and freelancers, corporate co-working has also been embraced by the likes of Yahoo and Zappos. You can choose from different price plans, based on your specific needs. Options may range from using the space for just a few days to having access throughout the year.
Open offices can attack both ends of the collaborating-in-a-small-office problem. For one thing, they encourage more collaboration. When workers aren’t isolated from each other, they can talk and brainstorm more easily, forming bonds and sprouting ideas. This is one reason why open offices are so popular. Another is that this layout takes up much less space. Without the bulky walls of a cubicle, the office can appear much more spacious. Consider removing your cubicles and replacing them with long office desks instead. To keep things interesting, you may want to be like DoSomething.org, and have workers sit in different spots every six months so that they form new connections each year.
A big problem that can plague a small office is a lack of meeting spaces. What if several meetings are scheduled throughout the day, but there isn’t enough room to accommodate all of them? Some creative solutions might be required. For example, will you need to use certain devices during the meeting, like a projector or television? If not, consider holding the meeting outdoors, or in the break room, or have a standing meeting in a common area large enough to hold the group. Is the meeting really necessary, or could you accomplish your goal with a simple memo? Furthermore, do all the people you’ve invited to the meeting really need to attend, or can a few of them get the details from the workers whose presence is required? Answering these questions can help you allocate meeting rooms more wisely.
Small spaces can be a challenge, but it isn’t an insurmountable one. With a little problem-solving, you can support collaboration without ever having to convert the broom closet into an additional office.
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