Designing for Collaboration: 4 Ideas for Creating a Collaborative Workspace
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  • Designing for Collaboration: 4 Ideas for Creating a Collaborative Workspace

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Patrick Isitt
Content Manager
Content specialist in office design and build.
  • In the modern corporate world, collaborative workspace holds the key to employee wellbeing, productivity and business success. Collaboration is the engine of progress, after all. As the saying goes, “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”. Businesses that create collaborative office space lay the foundations for a high-performance workplace. In fact, a study from Stanford in the US has found that employees working in collaborative settings are 50% more productive than employees working individually.

    Collaborative workspace is vital to employee engagement, creating the preconditions for a more transparent, connected and contented work environment. An environment in which employees have a greater sense of choice and ownership over how they interact with their colleagues. And while a company’s ethos, vision and behaviours can help to promote productive teamwork, one of the greatest drivers of collaboration is office design. Through enlightened and enabling workplace design schemes, companies can build a robust culture of collaboration that delivers value long into the future.

  • What is collaborative workspace?

    Collaborative workspace refers to a designated area, space or room in which people can come together to share ideas. Employees typically inhabit these spaces to work with their peers towards achieving common goals and devising solutions to challenges. Collaborative workspace can be formal or informal, situated inside or outside – anywhere, in fact, that enables colleagues to convene and converse freely.

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  • What are the benefits of collaborative workspaces?

    By being able to access dedicated space where they can work together, employees can leverage their collective knowledge and expertise to achieve far more than they would alone. The interactions enabled by collaborative workspace allow people to share ideas and tackle problems at speed, while also benefitting from a cross-pollination of diverse skills, ideas, backgrounds and perspectives, which enhances creativity and innovation.

    There’s strong evidence that collaborative workspace can deliver a major boost to business-critical outcomes. Companies that promote collaboration at work can reduce employee turnover rates by 50%. The same research found that employees are on average 17% more satisfied with their job when they operate in a collaborative environment, while 75% rate teamwork and collaboration as ‘very important’. Meanwhile, the absence of collaborative workspace can be costly, with 86% of leaders blaming a lack of collaboration as the top reason for workplace failures.

  • The core components of collaborative workspace design

    There are a variety of approaches to consider when it comes to creating collaborative office space, and collaborative spaces themselves can take many different forms. From informal breakout zones, overflow spaces and lounge areas, to formal meeting rooms, brainstorming areas and seminar space, companies need to define the collaborative workspace that works best for their employees. Even courtyards and kitchen areas can facilitate meaningful in-person contact and conversations. The vital thing to remember is that choice is everything, and employees increasingly want a say in the design decisions that shape their working environment.

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  • The last few years have highlighted the importance of human connection and community, and the office continues to play a vital role in bringing people together in the post-pandemic landscape. By helping to rebuild social networks, promote teamwork and reaffirm company culture, collaborative workspace provides an environment in which people can feel empowered to reconnect and cocreate.

    Here, we set out four ideas for creating collaborative office space to help companies drive productivity, employee engagement and positive business outcomes.

  • Open layouts

    Open floor plans are an essential component of collaborative workspace. Helping to promote transparent communication, open environments create ‘visibility’ in every sense, which in turn builds trust and boosts performance. Open office layouts also encourage spontaneous interactions – those moments in which people collide, converse and share ideas and information. These serendipitous connections are a key contributor to workplace community, helping to foster a sense of belonging. In addition, open workspace discourages siloes and ‘nesting’, facilitating movement and integration between individuals, teams and departments – another prerequisite for a high-performance workplace.

  • One example of how this can take shape is by encouraging the flow of people between working neighbourhoods and, if necessary, levels. Matillion’s workspace in Manchester does exactly this, with a bespoke, multifunctional staircase in the heart of their office encouraging greater movement between teams. This flow of people is also considered in other areas of their workplace design; the meeting rooms, for example, are positioned as ‘islands’ which intend to disrupt the daily habit of walking from A to B, ensuring that no two journeys are the same and that new pockets can always be discovered.

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  • Of course, there are known issues linked to noise and distraction in open environments, and there will always be employees who prefer more secluded workspace. For this reason, it’s important that companies also create areas that allow for quiet, private work and concentration, as well as more social areas. By striking a balance between different spaces and modes, businesses can ensure they meet the diverse needs of their workforce, which will boost overall employee satisfaction.

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  • Adaptability and modularity

    Building for adaption is a key strategic approach for modern businesses, particularly in the face of constant change and uncertainty in recent times. While adaptable office layouts enable businesses to remain agile in light of this landscape, the physical components of adaptive design are also essential for creating versatile collaboration zones.

    Modular furniture is integral to the success of adaptable, collaborative spaces, with sliding walls, screens and moveable desks enabling businesses to reconfigure office layouts in line with their evolving needs. This allows them to maximise agile space, which can flex to accommodate group work, breakout sessions, product displays or mass convenings. Collaboration tables can also be placed at tea points or in kitchens, giving these areas a dual function. For smaller businesses in particular, these approaches can help to balance a range of work modes within constrained spatial dimensions.

  • Moorhouse’s collaborative hub in London highlights how this principle can take shape. The design of their workspace is divided into four ‘zones’ to facilitate task-based working: Work, Meet, Flex and Grow. Each zone is equipped with modular furniture to enable the space to be reconfigured for a variety of settings, to support its primary function but also to double up as additional agile meeting space or touchdown points.

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  • Dedicated meeting spaces

    Meeting spaces are, of course, essential for collaboration – a staple of every working environment. But variety is key. At one end of the spectrum, official meeting rooms and boardrooms accommodate formal interactions. At the other end, two-person meeting booths provide the perfect spot for a quick-fire exchange of ideas. Regardless of the size, shape and style of a meeting room, comfort is a crucial consideration. It is essential to get the lighting, airflow and ergonomics right to ensure employees can work collaboratively without distraction.

    Following the shift to hybrid working, modern meeting rooms also need to enable homeworkers to attend sessions virtually. Audiovisual tech integration in meeting rooms helps to engage both in-person and remote participants, with anytime, anywhere connectivity a prerequisite for productive hybrid collaboration. Sufficient WiFi and bandwidth to support multiple mobile workers are also key, allowing businesses to truly connect the workforce.

  • Adaptive Financial Consulting’s workplace is a great example of how meeting rooms can promote different styles of collaboration. They had highlighted a need for more informal ways of working to promote greater social interaction across teams, and meeting rooms were a large part of that brief. The resulting space incorporates bleacher seating, meeting booths and high-backed seating to enable greater workplace agility, while formal meeting rooms include sliding and folding walls, meaning different teams can shape the space in different ways depending on their needs.

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  • Supporting the ad-hoc

    Offering diverse settings that accommodate various work styles is crucial to achieving a high-performing, collaborative work environment. In the evolution of the office over the past few years, establishing reliable areas beyond individual desks has become a key trend. Employees therefore increasingly expect diverse environments and spaces to choose from when they come to work each day.

    Touchdown points, such as high tables between working neighbourhoods, can create the spatial outlet workers seek. Likewise, collaboration tables in open-plan spaces provide another opportunity to come together. In fact, companies don’t always need dedicated rooms to encourage or enable collaboration – the key principle is to shape spaces and moments away from work areas to avoid distraction.

  • Shiseido’s London office provides a standout example of how this can take shape. By offering a rich variety of work settings, their space encourages agility and enables people to work together in new and different ways. The key to success was providing ad-hoc spaces away from central desking, giving employees autonomy over their working environment.

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  • Choice and opportunity

    By adopting the four design ideas discussed above – open layouts, adaptability, dedicated meeting spaces and ad-hoc work arrangements – companies can begin to create a truly collaborative working environment. The crucial point to remember is that different people function in different ways, as individuals and in teams, so offering choice as to where and how they work is absolutely paramount.

    By providing diverse spaces that support varying work preferences, businesses can support the multiple needs of their workforce, which is the key to achieving long-term employee engagement and commitment.

  • The High-Performance Workplace Guide

    Download our guide to discover more tips to creating a working environment that caters to various work styles and supports your teams.

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