• Steve Roberts

Collaboration in the workplace

What is collaboration?

In previous years, it would mean having to schedule meetings, invite participants to come along and get and agenda together; all very formal. This is no longer the case though and often the very best collaboration comes from unplanned and spontaneous events.

Where does ‘collaboration’ occur best?

Throwing a group of individuals together as co workers is all well and good and they may well perform well as individuals, but they cannot be made to collaborate their ideas together. It is possible to promote the practice though through the design of your office; offering spaces to break out and chat through issues away from the desk is guaranteed to offer advantages.

Do not dismiss the opportunity to meet around a desk though; it may well mean that you have the tools to hand that you need for the discussion. Therefore, pulling together a few chairs, or supplying storage solutions that include an extra seat may pay dividends to promoting a quick brainstorm.

It is human nature to seek out the most comfortable environment to work on any given task. Perhaps an informal feel will help with some decisions, perhaps somewhere more private will help on another occasion; variety is key. Simply put, different situations will call for different surroundings and tools for the job, but somewhere 'away from the desk' will enable your team to focus without unnecessary distractions.

Is promoting collaboration hard work?

Not at all, and there is no reason for it to be a drain on time or resources either. Some of the very best ideas that come from team collaboration are achieved in very small groups and in a fraction of the time associated with formal meetings!

How can you encourage spontaneity?
The encouragement of workplace collaboration needn't be a hard or expensive task; you simply need to promote and nurture your team to interact in new and refreshing ways to improve the way they communicate.
A simple high bench, freestanding or against a wall, together with some high stools are a perfect environment to get together. People will have the option of sitting on stools or standing and moving around whilst joining in the conversation; there will also be a perfect resting point to laptops and other work tools.
It is important to remember that creating collaboration areas is the easy part of the challenge; the real test will be your ability to encourage people to use them. Therefore you need to make the areas as user friendly as possible; consider needs how power and data supplies may improve the user experience.
Implications for designing your office

Workplace needs are constantly changing, so make sure you consider this when planning the design of your office space.

We have looked at how well thought out collaborative work spaces can inspire the team working day to day in your offices. But there are other considerations such as how you could reduce the number of fixed workspaces that are needed in your office. Collaborative work areas, correctly furnished and kitted out, are ideal for short visits from remote workers and enable interactions with other team members whilst visiting.

It is important to remember that it's not all about office tables, seats and soft furnishings though; vertical displays are great for engaging staff and promoting communications. Charts, schedules, targets and reports can all be displayed on office noticeboards and whiteboards, so make best use of space and use engaging content to attract staff interaction.

We have already discussed that well designed and located collaborative work spaces can work well for inspiring your day to day team. They may also reduce the need for permanent workstations, particularly for remote workers who are only visiting for short periods. Collaborative work areas give the ideal base for a short visit to the office and encourage interactions and updates with other team members.

It’s not all about providing solutions for office seats and tables though. Office notice boards and other display areas such as white boards can also play a key and vital part in collaboration. They offer the ability to share lists, schedules, charts and other records of progress.

Office culture is key

Aside from office furniture and other aesthetics, office culture is key to the success of encouraging collaboration amongst your team.

What kind of ‘behaviour’ is deemed as acceptable in your business? Are you ensuring that your staff feel comfortable with the concept of breaking away from their desk? You can create the perfect spaces to adopt the principles of collaboration, but if they are not being used you need to adjust the culture of your business. You must encourage your team to use the facilities available to them, and in turn your business reap the benefits of a modern approach to working.