Creating Collaborative Culture Through Office Design

Where you work matters. And I’m not talking about the profession itself, although that is important too, but rather the design of where you work. It matters – and probably a whole lot more than you think. The chairs, desks, lighting, kitchen, bathrooms, flooring, plants – everything combines to make a difference on your mood and eventual work performance. The office is a place where some people spend an estimated 90,000 hours of their adult lives, so clearly its design should provide optimal enjoyment and productivity for any company’s most important asset: the employees.

But, alas, this is not always the case. The drab office designs of the 1980s and 1990s continue to infect the modern office of today, turning off millenials and hurting worker productivity in the process. Companies who do not refit their office spaces usually use the budget as an excuse for upgrade omissions. However, office upgrades are not only related to open offices and modern designs. The simple addition of collaborative spaces has been proven to increase worker happiness, output and general wellbeing. And that’s not to mention the small costs incurred when introducing shared spaces to outdated corporate offices. So, let’s take a deeper dive into what collaborative spaces are and why such a small change can make all the difference:

An area for all

Office designs of the past have typically favored cubicles and segregated work spaces. You know the ones: rows upon rows of desks which are partitioned and separated. Such designs actively discourage collaboration and result in a high-stress work environment. This neither benefits the employees nor the companies in such offices. And, really, will such spaces entice remote workers to come to the office? Or retain millennials at the company? Enter collaborative spaces.

These are designated areas where employees are invited to meet, share, and, well, collaborate. It should be noted that they aren’t open offices – but simply spaces for different departments to link up in neutral territory. They are a melting pot for ideas, spaces where workers of any department or position can canvas proposals or suggestions without fear of ruffling the corporate feathers. There is a reason progressive companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook already design their offices with shared amenities and group areas – because it has a proven benefit on the entire company.

A small change makes a big difference

Introducing these spaces does not mean an entire office overhaul. Collaborative spaces can be as simple or as excessive as desired – from designated group spaces to air-hockey tables. The idea is to at least provide spaces for workers to get together collaboratively instead of competitively. Beanbags, whiteboards, computer monitors and even new paint can promote positive employee behaviors. Collaborative spaces can even take the shape of lounge areas which offer a place for workers to take short breaks and restore their attention spans. These alterations may appear trivial but can have a meaningful impact. For instance, better lighting and warmer colors inside an office environment has been proven to “impact mood and can also affect productivity.”

While the formal, scheduled meetings of yesteryear facilitate large group work processes and eventual decision-making, expectations around office work have since changed. As office supply manufacturer Knoll notes contemporary employees increasingly desire social connection while organizations need operational innovation – and innovation does not come from stuffy board room meetings. It is created from and nurtured through informal, creative interactions with colleagues. Collaborative spaces allow smaller groups in more flexible settings to share their ideas without fear of reproach. Workers can use these spaces without head honchos looking over their shoulder to agree on and hone ideas before more formalized meetings.

WeWork co-founder and chief creative officer Miguel McKelvey explained it best: “When you start a conversation when you’re at the coffee machine, you can quickly sit down after and have a 20-minute meeting … If you have to reserve a conference room to finish that conversation, then you lose time. It’s not efficient.” But perhaps more than operational efficiencies or increased productivity is the emotional culture that collaborative spaces can foster.

What’s best for the worker

In the end this is what it’s all about: worker wellbeing. Happy workers make for a happy company, which then provides better services to satisfied clients. Companies benefit holistically from the emotional stability and health of their employees – and countless studies back this up.

Research from HBR shows the emotional culture of a workplace can influence numerous areas of the business, from “employee satisfaction, burnout and teamwork, and even hard measures such as financial performance and absenteeism.” The report also notes that “countless empirical studies show the significant impact of emotions on how people perform on tasks, how engaged and creative they are, how committed they are to their organizations, and how they make decisions.”

By their very nature, collaborative spaces encourage stronger bonds between co-workers. A shared desk or open seating area fosters an environment of teamwork – an element especially important for millennials. According to research by Ernst & Young about 75 percent of the global workers will be millennials by 2025. These incoming workers will bring their office expectations with them – including the desire for working environments where “people feel valued, independent and part of a team.” Collaborative spaces tick each of these boxes. But also don’t forget about the workers who have stayed with a company for 20 or 30 years. Simple office additions and changes can improve their mindset by demonstrating managerial attentiveness. Small additions which don’t break the bank clearly have a big return-on-investment when it comes to workers young and old.

In conclusion, managers should already be thinking how to include collaborative spaces into their office if they have not done already. A happy worker is much more productive and these small changes can spur emotional wellbeing. Take that empty cubicle in the corner and turn it into a small lounge area. Use that storage space in a more inventive, enticing way. Businesses do not need new facilities to make the change but rather manage what they have more effectively. There is always room for your employee’s happiness.

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