I didn’t realize what I actually knew and didn’t know about collaboration until I started doing some research for this blog post. Originally I started thinking about it specifically in terms of open plan offices, but there is so much more that goes into successful office collaboration than meets the eye.
First off, everybody works differently. This may seem obvious, but it’s not. Already, you may be harkening back to times in your life when you worked together with others to accomplish something, whether it was by choice or because you were asked. You might have worked well in a space where everyone could share ideas, but maybe you liked some time alone to process things as well. All parties [hopefully] discussed how to work together in a mutually productive way, which is very important when thinking about how best to collaborate.
Space is directly relative as well; places that make people feel productive and comfortable for some might not for others. More and more, offices are trying different physical layouts to facilitate collaboration between employees. These can include, but are not limited to, open plan offices, conference rooms, scrum rooms, and even common eating areas. New trends suggest offices everywhere are gradually conducting less large, formal meetings and moving towards hosting smaller, informal meetings because employees feel better collaborating on a more social level. In accordance, they’re trying to create spaces where that kind of dialogue can occur: “Here, let’s provide them with a café on the first floor so they can talk business in a welcome atmosphere! That will do it. We’re so trendy now!”
Often, employers realize they need more communal space, or their current layout isn’t working, and install those informal meeting areas and cafés in hopes it fixes the problem. Sometimes this works, which is great. Other times, however, people often shy away from the new spaces because they feel work done there is unprofessional and/or “doesn’t count.” Teamwork is not as easy as showing the cat the proverbial litter box and telling it what to do. A related article stated, with incredible confidence, “In team rooms, every conversation matters.”  They implied that as if the physical act of pulling people into the same room somehow innately increased their individual and collective brainpower. This is not always the case. By being in the same room, those people may be encouraged to commence a brainstorming session or engage in creative planning…or they could be distracted, talk about things unassociated with work, and even potentially dissolve into giggles for whatever reason. Mindset in the space is just as vital as the space itself.
In order for collaboration to occur, especially in a newly designated space, people have to buy into the idea that they will share and work together well in those spaces whether they are CEOs or entry-level employees. An article in The Washington Post in December, entitled “Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace,” mentioned that companies who have moved to open plan offices have increased employee camaraderie as hoped for, but that the same peoples’ productivity was at an all-time low: no one got nearly as much work done because, “Each day, my associates and I are seated at a table staring at each other, having an ongoing 12-person conversation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s like being in middle school with a bunch of adults.” Thus, research proves that without proper planning collaborative spaces can be places where productivity absolutely plummets.
In considering all these different types of collaborative spaces and scenarios, I experienced a delightful research moment when I learned what a scrum room is. By definition, these are designated places where people assigned to the same project work together to meet a short-term deadline. Scrum rooms often have large whiteboards or chalkboards on which people can share ideas, epitomizing a meeting of the minds in all senses. This concept is not new. Newsrooms and stock exchanges have worked this way for years and years and are often a flurry of activity as people are working toward common goals and putting their whole selves into meeting deadlines. In contrast, scrum rooms can also become quieter, too, as individuals work late into the night or for hours on end. I picture these places as the ultimate way to collaborate based on personal experience; I love the idea that when the going gets tough, the tough people coexist and accomplish something. The website dummies.com declared of scrum rooms, “By arranging the space for productivity, it becomes part of how they work.”
Whether you think the scrum room concept is great, prefer your private office most of the time, or like something in between, technology in all these spaces unifies the way we work. As this is the 21st century, most everyone tends to plug in with smartphones, computers (laptop and desktop), tablets, HD TVs, and the like. These things have become an integral part of our lives in every capacity and are now pivotal collaborative tools that facilitate idea sharing and spreading on a digital level. I could write a dissertation on this topic, but the moral is these connections are vital. A major advantage to having these connections, especially in collaborative spaces, is that decisions can be made much more quickly than if people are not working around one another either physically or virtually. In that sense, collaborative spaces and the technology in them have actually increased the speed with which many businesses work.
Lest this blog suddenly begin to mirror an advice column, here is my recipe for succeeding in the office no matter its layout: work SMART. No matter whether you’re situated in an open plan area, talk frequently with others in informal meetings, or enjoy your quiet personal space, be productive and efficient. Know your optimal productivity environment so you can synthesize information and work well with those around you, and then emulate it for yourself as best you can. Here at Bush Furniture, we’re happy to help you out with any office furniture if you’re thinking of starting or revamping a collaborative workspace. Check out our website www.bushbusinessfurniture.com for complete collections of office furniture to address your every need. We’d love to know what collaborative workspaces have or have not done for you, so please leave your comments below!