Design for Collaboration

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Design for CollaborationCorporate culture, innovation, and collaboration are three of the most popular “management- speak” catchwords of the past decade. As more companies expand their presence through M&A activity or just plain re-location, new opportunities for designing workspace to help promote and reinforce more effective collaboration. From little isolation boxes of personal turf to “collaborate spaces,” relocation and remodeling can offer new opportunities to design for more collaboration, innovation, and team building.

According to Architect Tom Price, principal architect at Strada Architecture in Pittsburgh, “companies should seek to encourage collaboration through the balance of ‘me vs. we’ space in the workplace.” However, Architect Price also warns that companies have to be careful not to be overly invasive in encouraging it. Price further observes that “oppressive​ ​“us time” sessions can​ ​leave​ ​people​ ​disinterested,​ ​less​ ​connected, and​ ​wondering​ ​if​ ​they​ ​actually​ ​contributed​ ​anything​ ​of​ ​value​ ​to the​ ​event.”

Price explains that different organizations may use a variety of design solutions to encourage collaboration, but the emphasis on increased collaboration reflects a new way of working for all — the shift from a linear mode of production for legacy platforms to a more dynamic, digital one.

Three types of spaces that balance ‘me’ and ‘we’ time

Architect Price proposes three types of spaces that can help promote more collaboration.

Collision — These are strategically located communal spaces where people can get food and drinks and socialize when they run into one another. “These types of spaces help people navigate their day by allowing them to relax, recharge, and connect when convenient to their schedule,” Price said. “These creative gathering places should also create an experience that is distinct from the rest of the workplace.”

Mixed-use —​​mixed-scale,​ ​and mixed-personality​ ​rooms​ ​and ​furniture​ ​clusters allow users to approach their work creatively. ​Spaces​ ​with their own personality, such​ ​as workshop-like​ “maker” spaces or home-style living ​rooms,​ ​“​inspire​ ​nontraditional​ ​modes​ ​of meeting,​ ​sharing,​ ​breaking​ ​and​ ​testing,” Price said. “​​​These​ ​flexible spaces​ ​also​ ​empower​ ​users​ ​to​ ​modify​ ​the​ ​space​ ​to meet​ ​their​ ​immediate​ ​needs.”

Huddle —​ Although collision spaces are typically the largest drivers of collaboration culture, “they rarely provide the distraction-free focus space critical for thinking through problems and innovating,” Price said. Small huddle spaces with a mix of screens, whiteboards and flexible seating options not only support small-group brainstorming sessions but also easily adapt to solo “me time” types of work.

Make design decisions that reflect your priorities and values

It makes sense that the type of industry will have a strong influence on the process flow. However, regardless of the major thrust of the workflow, there should be a conscious attempt to provide for the types of spaces that promote a balance of “me vs. we” activities. Having input from all employee groups can help identify those elements that can help promote a relaxed yet productive environment. Indeed, having a television in a huddle area can be a distraction, but having certain rules can provide for flexible use of “collaborative spaces.” Being human will probably require some subtle management influence on protecting the idea of promoting business related collaboration rather than reverting to just social collaboration. However, that will also require a balanced approach.

Design for the Flat Organization

Open workspaces with creative furnishings may seem like little more than an aesthetic nod to trendy tech culture. But, according to workplace architect Price, they’re physical​ ​manifestations​ ​of​ ​another​ ​trend: the flat organizational charts that characterize many of the world’s most innovative companies.

Research by MIT Sloan Management Review suggests​ flatter hierarchies are essential for obtaining​ ​true​ ​digital​ ​expertise and instilling innovation and risk-taking among employees.​ According to this research, companies that are early in the process of transitioning to digital workflows are​ ​characterized​ ​by​ ​“a​ ​low​ ​appetite​ ​for​ ​risk,​ ​a​ ​hierarchical leadership​ ​structure,​ ​and​ ​work​ ​performed​ ​in​ ​silos.” Organizations​ ​that​ ​have embraced​ ​a​ ​digital​ ​future, on the other hand,​ ​have​ ​flatter​ ​leadership structures,​ ​value​ ​experimentation,​ ​and​ ​foster collaboration.​ ​This​ ​model​ ​of​ ​distributed​ ​leadership​ ​is​ ​prevalent in​ ​the​ ​technology​ ​industry.

In summary, developing the corporate culture designed to promote collaboration, innovation and creativity should consider the total workspace environment. As of yet, there are no reports of ROI and interior workspace design, but according to architect Price, the anecdotal evidence is clear.

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