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6 Elements for Creating a Successful Collaborative Workspace

September 10, 2014

6 Elements for Creating a Successful Collaborative Workspace

For many years now we’ve seen how having a collaborative workspace can boost innovation, creativity, and productivity. We’ve all heard or read of Pixar’s and Google’s spaces — from common café and “play” areas to furniture on wheels.

But creating such a workspace takes thoughtful consideration. The perfect collaborative workspace can be frustratingly elusive. No two companies are the same. Workforces, core values, cultures, work processes — they’re all different.

Despite that, a number of studies have been done around the physical workspace and its impact on increasing collaboration and productivity.

There are two ingredients. The first is creating a corporate culture that embraces collaboration and infuses those values in everything it does.

The second is creating the physical space to reinforce the culture and values. Having one without the other is like eating macaroni without the cheese. Sure, you can eat either of them alone. But they don’t have much flavor. But combined together with a little milk and butter and baked until there’s a nice crusty top? Mmmm.

To help you sort out the physical options, we did some digging and comparison and found that these characteristics are the ones most likely to create that perfect collaborative workspace:

1. Flexibility and Variety

Great collaboration is not just about groups of people working side-by-side all day long. It also requires introspection. So there will be times when people come together in various sized groups and there will be times when people need “alone” time. Some people need more of one than the other to be productive. And each company’s ratio of together vs. alone time will vary depending upon the goals, projects, tasks, and people.

The best collaboration workspaces are either configured to provide all of these options in fixed ways (e.g. dedicated meeting rooms in different sizes, desks, or shared work tables) or can be quickly reconfigured simply by drawing curtains, rearranging furniture, moving walls, etc. Many maximize the best of both.

Open designs such as these encourage casual collisions among people who might never normally run into each other. These serendipitous moments are often the catalyst for great ideas.

2. Open, Cheerful, Well-Lit, and Comfortable

People respond best to working in well-lit rooms – and the more natural the light, the better. Color schemes are predominantly cheerful and energizing — balanced with other areas that are calmer and more serene. Furniture is comfortable and conducive to the type of collaboration expected. For example brainstorming areas are often filled with sofas, comfortable chairs, plenty of whiteboards, laptop tables, and corkboards, etc.

3. Writing / Brainstorming Space

Walls and all writable surfaces become the substrate for creativity. Some companies have replaced their walls and desks with whiteboards and/or glass. Others have even used whiteboard paint on all writable surfaces such as walls, tabletops, and desks. This makes it easy to capture thoughts and ideas on the nearest available surface. This fosters spontaneous discussions or makes it easy to deliberately gather people into the conversation. Everyone in the workspace can see what’s going on and add to those ideas and thoughts, pose questions, challenge assumptions, and offer solutions.

4. Acoustics & Technology

A big challenge with open workspaces is the amount of noise they can often generate. Sound is often the primary reason why open workspaces don’t deliver on the promises of increased innovation. To combat the distraction of noise – sound dampening technologies are used in defined areas so the workspace stays productive. For example, dedicated common play or eating areas don’t use it while shared work or desktop areas do, letting phone calls and work conversations happen without distracting others nearby.

WiFi, big screen monitors, speaker systems, power strips and other technological accessories are everywhere – simplifying and supporting adhoc brainstorming, ideation, production, and presentation so virtual teammates can also join in and work can occur anywhere.

5. Food & Supplies

People don’t have to walk far to find sustenance. Mini-kitchens stashed with healthy snacks and beverages are everywhere. And several larger food prep areas or cafés are available nearby for greater selection.

Supply cabinets for post-its, dry erase markers, construction paper, scissors, tape — whatever the tools of choice for your company are as readily available as food is.

6. No Fixed Seating

Along with open floor plans, there is often no fixed seating. Some companies have open seating every day — so it’s first-come, first-served. Some have opted to rotate seating on a regular basis – so everyone gets a chance to sit at the table by the window at some point. The main purpose is to encourage people to cluster based on their work needs.

Use What Works

Every company’s needs are different. Your company’s culture, its workforce, and your work processes need to support a collaborative workspace if you are to reap the greatest benefits possible.

And as technologies continue to evolve, as human needs’ change, our workspaces will evolve as well. Who knows what the future will bring? The only thing we can count on is that change is inevitable.