The ways people work change over time, in keeping with broader changes to business and economic realities. One significant trend over the past 15 or so years has been a move towards greater collaboration in the workplace.
In all kinds of businesses, work now takes the form of projects with specific goals and clear deadlines, and employees work in teams rather than independently.
Unfortunately, many companies struggle to support collaboration in the workplace. This is partly because of modern challenges like having team members distributed across different parts of the globe. However, it’s also because many people’s ideas about office layout and furniture have become outdated.
Why is collaboration more important now than in the past?
Job roles are far more fluid than they were in the past, with companies forced to adapt quickly to new demands and updated technologies. At the same time, companies need to be more innovative if they’re to survive in a global, highly competitive environment.
In this context, strong collaboration among team members is often critical. Instead of working on separate tasks and feeding the results through to other people or departments, team members need to pool their different skills and perspectives, coordinating their efforts and adapting as changes arise.
According to a 2010 IBM study of over 700 chief human resource officers, organisations increasingly need to find “new ways to connect people to each other and to information, both internally and externally.”
What’s wrong with traditional office layouts?
If you visit the average workplace, you still find partitions, heavy desks and chairs and bulky PCs, all designed to create a separate workspace for each employee. Inherently, this kind of setup doesn’t support collaboration.
According to a modern reworking of the famous saying by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in cubicles.”
Even technologies like video and phone conferencing tend to be used in environments that discourage the natural exchange of information and ideas, with participants forced to sit up straight and keep their eyes forward.
How to design an office to encourage collaboration
There are several ways you can adjust the layout and furnishing of an office space to make it more conducive to collaboration. Instead of fixed partitions and heavy, immovable furniture, focus on open spaces and desks, tables and chairs that are easy to move around. This should make it possible to reconfigure office layout as and when necessary.
Bear in mind that in the modern workplace, employees are regularly reorganised into new teams, to embark on new projects or meet new challenges. In the case of large projects with multiple teams, one person may even need to move from one location to another several times in an average day.
You might think that adding comfortable sofas and small round tables with chairs to a workplace will reduce employees’ productivity, tempting them just to “sit around and chat.” However, many of today’s most competitive companies use just these types of elements in their office designs. That’s because they make it easy for staff to get together and share ideas, encouraging creativity far more effectively than stiff boardroom environments.