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Designing Collaborative Environments

Today’s workplace must be a collaborative environment that extracts the most value from the space, attracts and retains great talent, and reflects the aspirations of the organization. Get those things right, performance improves, workers are more effective and more efficient, innovation is nurtured, and other good stuff happens.

An article in the Steelcase 360 Resource titled “Workspaces for a Work-Anywhere World” discusses that offices have never had to work so hard. It used to be enough that offices provided efficient, ergonomic, functional places for people to get work done. Spaces that offered a little inspiration and innovation were a bonus. That won’t cut it today!

According to research by Steelcase, we may be mobile, global, and wireless, but we still need connections beyond the virtual. We need spaces to connect in person with others. What are those places like? Architects, designers, and facility managers tell us those spaces often include:

1. Smaller workstations—rising real estate costs drive smaller workstations, but smaller technology, smarter work tools, and the need for less paper storage help smaller spaces feel larger, as do…

2. Lower panels that let in more light, provide better sight lines to others, and help open up the conversation.

3. More spaces for collaboration which are easier to fit it when less space is devoted to dedicated workstations; these on-demand spaces are often out in the open, sometimes behind glass walls and doors, and may hold just two to six people; key is proximity: close enough to individual workstations so they’re used, far enough away so they don’t distract.

4. Impromptu meeting places may include a café, of course, but also niches in the hallway, a couple of chairs and table amid a workstation cluster, a stand-up worksurface along the window or on top of a row of files: creativity doesn’t keep a schedule or a fixed address.

5. Easier connections to technology & tools—Wi-Fi, sure, but also simpler ways to present information and share it (think portable whiteboards and easier hookups to monitors, power, and data).

6. Head-down space—sometimes you need a place where you can focus on a task, have a private conversation or phone call, or just distance yourself from interruptions.

7. Organizational identity—from ways a team can display work in progress to using the space as a metaphor for the organization (this is who we are and how we work).

8. Places for mentoring—millennials are joining the workforce and boomers are starting to leave, so quiet places (e.g. a private enclave, a meeting space off to the side, etc.) help people share expertise and experience, further the organizational culture, preserve institutional memory, and encourage more collaboration.