The case for increasing the footprint of collaboration space in the office

As the world begins returning to work, the old purpose of the office—going there to perform individual work—has shifted for 76% of companies. Work is now something you do, not somewhere you go, but the office isn’t going away. Instead, it’ll become a hub for socializing (which was noticeably absent during remote work) and collaboration. Even of the 24% of companies not planning to adopt a hybrid workplace model yet, many will be expected to prioritize employee collaboration to help drive success.

We’re beginning to hear that company leadership thinks they think they’ve “solved” collaboration with tools like Teams, Zoom, or Slack. But these tools are simply not enough and do not address the need for human connection. They also ignore the additional physical space required for safe and effective collaboration in this new environment. Remember: If the collaboration spaces you design work well, it will be a big incentive for employees—who can now decide where to work—to spend more time in the office.

How do we know there is a correlation between facilitating collaboration and worker performance? In a recent JLL survey, 97% of high performers report that their offices facilitate easy collaboration. Video conferencing and messaging tools are great, but nothing can fully replace the rich, informal interactions or “creative collisions” that occur naturally in thoughtfully designed spaces.

Adam Grant, a psychologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, observed that virtual work has “benefits for productivity … [but] the big risks are collaboration and culture.” As we return to the office, how can we maximize the benefits of physical interaction while mitigating the risks?

Create ultra-flexible workspaces and communal areas that draw people in

Historically, workplaces were designed for permanence. That’s no longer the case, nor should it be. Workspaces must easily adapt to a diverse range of work styles and to the flux in office population common with hybrid workplaces. The number and types of collaboration spaces the organization needs will change, so anticipate and plan accordingly. Design communal areas that invite people in and encourage conversation, with layouts that are safe and comfortable: couches, vibrant colors, warm lighting, etc. Create mixed-use spaces can inspire innovative, creative, collaborative work. Quiet huddle rooms are another option, which can encourage small group collaboration with some privacy.

One of the best ways to inspire collaboration in the office, though, is by making it visible. Highly trafficked areas are ideal for spaces that encourage “standup” meetings or pods for brainstorming. Any location with a whiteboard or seating has the potential to be an impromptu collaboration space or to inspire quick confabs—which are as essential as deliberative, longer meetings. Be mindful of sound attenuation, however, especially considering two big changes: the larger distance many employees will have between them when they converse and the huge increase in the number of video conferences workers now participate in.

Another way to foster collaboration is by rethinking amenities spaces and common spaces to maximize informal interactions. A literal watercooler (preferably a water bottle-filling station) or an espresso/coffee/tea area designed and situated so that it attracts workers from various departments will cause those everyday, informal interactions that can quickly turn into rich, ad-hoc collaboration sessions.

Use technology to create and iterate more efficiently

To design flexible, agile workplaces, you’ll need software that enables your team to try out various designs and make changes virtually and in real time. Once you’ve implemented your amazing new spaces, you’ll want to ensure you’re optimizing usage and iterating changes on the fly. Deep-learning IoT sensors are ideal for monitoring utilization and occupancy, gathering data, and delivering insights.

Make it simple to book meeting rooms or find collaboration or amenities spaces with an employee experience app. Workers can secure desks, find the breakroom, reserve meeting spaces, complete a health screening before entering the building, and much more—no more spreadsheets or signup clipboards. The added benefit of these apps is that by integrating them with siloed corporate portals, they will improve aspects of the employee experience unrelated to workspaces.

In addition to strong wifi or 5G coverage throughout the office, workers need tech that enriches the virtual/video conference experience, such as immersive smart rooms and mobile presentation screens, for at-home and in-office workers, from all communal and collaborative areas for impromptu meetings.

You’re navigating uncharted territory, but you’re not alone

The COVID-19 pandemic abruptly changed the way businesses and their employees view the workplace. Workers will perform individual tasks at home and will go to the office to brainstorm, socialize, and collaborate. Now is your team’s time to gain major competitive advantages by rethinking how you design your workspaces. While this is uncharted territory, we have the expertise and tech you need to achieve your goals.

Have questions? We’re here for you. Reach out for a consultation.

cre guide to hybrid workplace ebook