A collaborative workspace is something that every company should set out to achieve - it is the environment that allows your staff to flourish and create ‘the next big thing’ to come out of your company.
The best place to start on this is a company like Google. They have excelled at making a workspace in which their staff can effectively collaborate.
Open banks of Desks
Open banks of desks are a good starting point to building a collaborative workspace. Closed off, cubicle like desks naturally segregate your staff, you need to have open banks of desks that allow free-flowing, open conversations.
The introduction of hot desking takes this a step further. This will allow dynamically built teams to sit next to each other and work together. It removes the need for them to go to a meeting room every time they want to discuss something. Hot desking means that people will move around (obviously) and with this comes the ability for more people to interact with one another rather than just knowing the people on their floor. It means that it’s more likely that introductions aren’t needed at the start of a project although this only really applies to those working in a big company, where you do not know everyone. Fixing people to the same desk limits the expansion of their interactions.
This is the part that Google has really nailed. They have breakout areas of all different designs that are capable of suiting a variety of people and the moods they might be in.
You need to have space for small teams (or even sometimes large ones) to break out into so they can freely explore ideas. The key word here is ‘freely’. They need to be able to do this away from any management. If people feel they’re being observed you won’t get the best out of them.
Obviously, Google take their offices to the next level and we can't all have carousels in the hallway of our offices but the concepts of what Google do can be taken and applied, no matter what your budget and no matter what your company size.
The need for an informal atmosphere
It's important not to mistake informal for casual. Work is still work and an informal atmosphere only works for as long as the work is getting done. Beware of people attempting to take advantage of the environment.
People do need time to get to know each other on a personal level as well. This way they will understand each other in a way that will allow them to more effectively communicate.
Provide areas that let people have a chat whilst they make a coffee - whether that be related to work or not. Somewhere they can eat their lunch - but do it right. Google provide areas on the roof for people to eat the food they have brought for themselves. If they need to buy food, Google provides canteens where the standard of food is high.
Whilst you might think that people want to go out and get food from somewhere else, if you're providing good food in a nice environment with people that they like, you might see a knock on effect elsewhere.
Don't be a leadership team that hides in your office
If your staff don't have a workspace where they feel comfortable to approach their leaders... how can they be expected to come up with their big ideas and then be happy to come and tell you about them.
You need an open-door policy. You might be busy, but so are they. Working on things that are all aimed at bettering the company you run. Listen to them. It is important to remember that listening and agreeing are two very different things. If they suggest something and you know it won’t work, take the time to tell them why and talk them through it, don’t be dismissive. Making yourself accessible is one of the most important aspects of collaboration so make every effort to do it.
There's obviously much more to this than you can fit in a blog - but we have more stuff on the way. Do you work somewhere that thrives in a collaborative culture? Or do you work somewhere that could benefit from a culture shift? Let me know what your experiences are - it would be good to hear them!
About the author
Declan has done a little bit of everything at Greenlight. He has been a billable consultant on multiple engagements and led our managed service proposition but is now fully settled in running all things marketing.