There’s a correlation between personal interactions, performance, and innovation and in Silicon Valley Facebook, Yahoo and Google have designed workspaces to maximise chance encounters. Nina Fountain, the founder of Transformed Teams, agrees that creative ideas aren’t going to happen behind a computer, but how can businesses create spaces that spark collaboration, and fuel innovation?
Face-to-face interactions are often the most important activity in the workplace; getting employees to ‘collide’ and have unplanned interactions assists performance.
As tech has been consumerised, digital-savvy employees are demanding that their spaces adapt to how they work, rather than vice versa. Technologists, programmers, and creative professionals wanted to work outside of confining office environments but also wanted to avoid the isolation of home offices. They chose to work side by side, in what is known as co-working spaces.
Early examples were intuitively built by users creating spaces that worked for them. They were easily accessible, and people who chose to work in those spaces intentionally sought members from different companies and reproduced the community, social interaction, learning, and energy typical of their online work while adding the benefit of physical proximity to others. Unwittingly, they were forming spaces to create exploration and therefore enhance creativity. And it’s something we can learn from when it comes to creating productive workspaces.
Although the co-working model provides the opportunity for exploration that independent workers and small groups need, when teams reach a critical size, usually around ten members, they need to up their engagement with one another, which has led to the scaling of co-working spaces.
Offices are no longer the sole location for knowledge work. Research from Emergent Research suggests that two-thirds of knowledge work now occurs outside the office. In fact, leading organisations are establishing their office as the ‘social hub’ for remote workers to connect.
In some ways, the digital workspace enhances collisions with file-sharing and communication tools such as chat, email, and archiving. In dispersed teams, face-to-face interactions and engagement are lower compared to online interactions within teams. And online engagement increases with the number of users. However, digital communication can’t replace offline and in-person interaction.
The quality of face-to-face communication is entirely different to communication that happens online. Often it takes a face-to-face conversation for people to say what needs to be said, in the way that they need to say it. Complex and nuanced discussions are tough to have via email or using a text-based mode. All in all, coming together in person has not yet been replaced by technology. There needs to be a central place for colleagues to come together and businesses need to build this opportunity into their office design and their travel budget.
If companies can change their buildings to reflect how people work, performance improvement will follow. The aim is to increase innovation and productivity. If we don’t offer remote workers spaces and tools to be able to do this kind of work when they ‘come into town’, then everyone suffers. So your best office space will allow people to work in a variety of ways – offline and online.
Co-working is succeeding as an effective work style because it integrates good design that enhances exploration with the digital habits of individuals and small teams. And it’s an inspiration when it comes to creating effective workspaces.
Design your office to create opportunities for face-to-face interaction and equip your people with the tools and spaces for online and offline work, and your workplace will be future-proofed.