Jul 09, 2015
THEME: Workplace

When Worlds Collide: Spots for Collaboration in the Modern Office

Recently, a lot of talk has centered on the positives and negatives of the open office environment. Proponents note how an open office plays well into the reduction of an individual’s “work zone” without sacrificing aesthetics – making downsizing less of a downer.

Critics cite the lack of privacy and acoustics as reasons to preserve walls. What few in either camp focus on is the diversity of spaces that often accompany an open office environment. Less personal space in an office may allow for more communal space, and therefore more options on where one gets work done.

These spaces – sometimes called collaborative spaces, collision spaces, or “we” spaces – allow for greater versatility in accommodating work styles and tasks, as well as provide for places to spark creativity and dialogue.

Collision spaces in offices are not a new concept. Ever since staff gathered around the proverbial water cooler, we have recognized the need for interaction away from a personal desk. Formal interaction occurs in conference rooms, but it’s usually too structured to allow for creative dialogue to spontaneously occur. These collaborative spaces create an area for conversation to flow freely and comfortably. It’s human nature to socialize and seek out these places for more informal interactions with co-workers.

Where should collisions happen? In the past 20 years, we’ve seen a surge in recognizing “third places,” such as coffee shops and libraries where people go to get work done. These locations usually include some level of tolerated background noise and visual distractions (that are easy to rest the eyes on), as well as the chance to interact with others – whether planned or not.

Many workspaces have attempted to bring the “third place” environment into the workplace to provide employees with a choice in how, and where, they get work done. The break room of 20 years ago has evolved into the pantry or café. This space is typically centrally located, offers staff access to daylight, has seating options with multiple postures, and provides access to food and drink. The walls around the space have come down to allow for visual and interpersonal connection to other parts of the office. Most importantly, this concept offers a place to engage with co-workers in a much different way.

There are other types of collaborative spaces that may get incorporated into an office environment. However, they don’t have to appear formal. Casual seating groups allow for alternate postures during work and may spark conversation between workers. Bar height counters invite shorter dialogue but also allow a break from seated posture.

Having these placed in strategic locations throughout the office allow such opportunities to occur more frequently. The key is to have a variety of options and locations to encourage accidental interactions between staff members. Collaboration among employees garners a sense of camaraderie and support. It also levels the playing field, with no one in the conversation having a “home court” advantage. In return, informal dialogue can turn into opportunities and productivity gains.

We can agree that the need for human interaction is a constant in the ever-shifting office landscape. Technology may change but creative collaboration will still require that human interaction, and creativity – as a byproduct of interaction – cannot be planned for as much as encouraged and accommodated by our surroundings.

Where in your office are you most creative? Where do you prefer to have an in-person conversation?

This article originally appeared in the Mid Atlantic Real Estate Journal.

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