To foster collaboration in open-office environments, focus on a pair of elements that you can control: furniture and technology.
“Workers come to the office as a means to connect with others and collaborate, ultimately placing greater emphasis, not less, on spaces for people to meet in groups,” notes a recent Brookings Institution report, “Innovation Spaces: The New Design of Work.”
Businesses can integrate seating and meeting furniture with technology in open workspaces to foster a sense of community, facilitate collaboration and “create serendipitous encounters,” the report notes.
Here are five ways to spark your team’s collaborative spirit:
1. Make every piece of office furniture matter.
Research shows innovative companies are five times more likely to have office setups that offer both individual and group workspaces, according to Gensler’s U.S. Workplace Survey.
To achieve that, provide midsize seating areas for casual pop-up conversations in open areas, pairing sofas with comfy chairs. But also provide formal meeting spaces with large tables and ergonomic chairs for lengthy brainstorms. Finally, vary your individual workspaces by providing a mix of options – bench style, semi-walled or fully closed-off spaces for intense focus.
2. Make tools for collaboration ubiquitous.
Outfit group spaces with digital whiteboards, interactive screens and tablets, and LED video walls for conferencing and exploring data. Walls made of whiteboard or chalkboard, as well as glass tables with erasable markers, give employees the freedom to get kinetic as they work.
For smaller spaces — where large whiteboards or digital displays might be tricky to set up — consider installing group-user stations with video conferencing systems to encourage quick interactions with remote workers or customers.
3. Make every space a smart one, and give people a chance to roam.
You want employees to feel free to migrate about the office, but you also want them to have the tools they need wherever they land. Laptop and tablet hookups and power cords should be available at all spaces, along with charging stations for every seat in the office.
If you install docking stations attached to big-screen monitors, workers can plug their laptops in and work wherever they’d like that day.
Think about where certain groups tend to congregate, and what needs and goals they have. For example, if your account operations team regularly meets in a particular conference room, you can outfit it with displays for video calls with clients. If your designers like to congregate in the office kitchen to brainstorm, make the wall a digital whiteboard.
Also consider the print needs of the business and centrally locate printers in areas of high traffic to make them convenient to both individuals and teams.
4. Make more items mobile.
It’s not just workers who can go mobile.
Look for whiteboards, tables, chairs and even sofas on wheels. If the budget doesn’t allow installing a digital display in every conference room, consider putting the equipment on a cart to make every location conference-friendly.
With a mix of highly mobile components, a team can configure and reconfigure the workspace for big- or small-group collaboration — or both. Individual employees who need to work on intense projects can take advantage of wheeled room dividers to create semiprivate areas, too.
This approach also works well in companies where employees don’t always work in the office or have assigned seating; the space can adapt to support whichever team needs the space.
5. Make health-conscious options available, too.
Working doesn’t have to mean sitting. Research shows getting out of your office seat is good for you; experts recommend desk workers stand or engage in light activity (like walking) for two to four hours a workday, according to a consensus statement published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Like group and individual workspaces, seating options should vary, too — from traditional desk chairs and balance balls to stools and standing desk chairs.
Companies that provide their employees with adjustable desks or treadmill-desk stations show they care about employee health and are on the forefront of office furniture ergonomics.