Very often, employers focus on earning money and making a profit instead of their employees’ well-being and creating a collaborative workspace. This is a problematic approach, as employees are the powerhouses of the business, and their productivity has a significant impact on how well the company is working.
Running a business can be seen as an ongoing cycle of improving morale in order to increase employee productivity to then increase ROI and profit made by the company. But essentially employees are the fundamental parts of a company, and their needs have to be prioritized.
A collaborative workspace leads to employees being more productive and working better together, which leads to a better quality of work being produced. Ignoring the importance of collaboration and engagement in the workplace can have a detrimental effect on a company’s ability to function well and produce good quality work.
Collaborative workspaces have become more popular in recent years with their use in Manhattan rising 70% from 2017 to 2018. There are now nearly 2 million people using collaborative workspaces in the US alone, and two-thirds of companies are looking to expand their coworking spaces this year.
What Makes a Workspace Collaborative?
A collaborative workspace is one in which employees work closely and collaborate to produce work, instead of individually. There can be a mix of private and shared office space in a collaborative workplace so that employees can carry out their individual tasks quietly, but are still able to collaborate together and brainstorm ideas collectively for projects. Alternatively, some offices have switched to being entirely based in a collaborative space without individual offices. Generally, offices will still have areas for employees to carry out individual work but they may be communal, as opposed to having personal desks or cubicles for everyone.
Collaborative workspaces do not usually mean that there will be a shared workspace with other companies or offices, however. Most companies are able to install a shared workspace in their own existing office space so that it is still private. In the case that your company doesn’t have the space to create its own collaborative workplace, you may share a space with another, however, in most cases, there will be access to your own boards and areas to collaborate with colleagues away from distractions.
These collaborative workplaces can range from an office area with whiteboards and sofas for employees to use to collaborate on projects occasionally, to permanent office spaces complete with areas for employees to complete personal projects in a shared environment. Both of these options make teamwork more accessible and mean that employees work better together and are able to get more done.
Collaborative workspaces are not just about the office space, however. It’s important that workers have space they can use to collaborate and work together with others, however ensuring that employees can work well together is another priority.
The Google offices are a great example to look to when talking about collaborative culture, as the company prioritizes employees themselves rather than results, which actually has led them to their success. In making sure their offices are all equipped with collaborative workspaces to fit their employees’ needs and encourage working together, they have become one of the most successful companies in the world, and hold a reputation for being one of the best places to work at, following their philosophy that ‘life at Google is not all work’. Many of their offices are unconventional; their Dublin office has a putting green and their California section has a volleyball court, but these work to build relationships between their employees. Google combines these approaches, which create a ‘casual collision’ between employees, with collaborative workplaces. 3 initiatives that they include in the design of many of their offices are;
- Having an open-plan office, enabling employees to move around a lot and not feel claustrophobic or enclosed.
- Never being more than 150 feet away from food, which allows employees to take regular breaks and socialize simultaneously.
- Areas designed for group work, not just single-occupancy so that workers are always able to work with others and lessen their own workload.
How Does a Collaborative Workplace Benefits a Company?
Collaborative workspaces take up less space in an office building than having individual offices. This can mean that companies are able to rent out more desirable buildings in better and more central areas of a city without breaking their budget. Renting enough space for each employee to have their own office or desk space can be expensive, and often offices can end up in remote locations that are inconvenient in order to save money on rent. Having a collaborative workplace enables you to have a more accessible location, which is great for employees who are using public transport or who live close by.
Make Hiring Easier
Hiring new employees is also much easier with collaborative workspaces as employees are able to join a team fast and easily without having to move furniture around or find extra space for them in the office. This means that the office is always set up to take new employees which are cost-effective and reduces the time and effort spent on the hiring process. They are able to fit right into the workspace as it is without incurring any extra costs with having to get them a desk, furniture, and computer set up individually.
One of the downfalls of so many companies is that good communication is so often overlooked. Communication is an important part of any company as it ensures that tasks are well-distributed and every member of the workforce knows what they’re doing and well. When communication is compromised, employees don’t collaborate and productivity starts to fall and the work produced is not to the same quality as it would be. However, in a collaborative workspace, because employees are working together on projects and able to talk freely and often, communication picks up and the workplace becomes more engaged and productive.
Better Use of Technology
Configuring an IT system when employees are all working from different areas and separately from each other can be time-consuming, cost money, and be confusing at times. When everyone is in the same place, however, they’re all able to use the same technology, which is also cost-effective. Wi-Fi is readily available, large video conferences only need one screen, and employees can collaborate more easily.
More Opportunities to Socialize
Studies have shown that employees experience higher levels of job satisfaction when they are surrounded by friends. Those who do not have close friends at work experience unhappiness and dissatisfaction with their jobs, and are less likely to provide good quality work. An important part of making sure that a collaborative workplace is put to its best use is to ensure that employees can collaborate on projects well together, which means teamwork skills are needed. Creating relationships is a huge part of having a productive workspace and culture. Allowing employees to have a place to socialize and build relationships is just as important as making sure they have a place to work efficiently. With a collaborative workplace, socializing and working can be done simultaneously. Breaks can be taken all together, in the same place, which encourages team-building and creating meaningful friendships in the workplace.
Designing a Collaborative Workspace
There are a number of ways that a collaborative workspace can be designed. Having a large space, as opposed to cubicles means that there is the opportunity to create a space that fits the needs of the company and the employees.
One technique that works well is having an open-plan office, with desks, chairs, and other furniture around. Screens or whiteboards can be included in the design which allows videos or conferences to be played and makes idea brainstorming easy. Open plan collaborative offices can be incorporated into an existing office space to combine group work and individual or can be an addition to a workplace so that it is just used when it needs to be.
Open-plan offices can be difficult to integrate effectively, however, and if you go wrong, they can quite easily not work. If too much is crammed into space, it can feel cluttered, and the opposite of relaxed, and employees will find it harder to effectively collaborate on tasks. On the other hand, if space is filled with too many soft furnishings, it can become unprofessional and lead to a decrease in productivity if employees don’t feel they are still in an office.
The Microsoft office in London is a great example of an open-plan office used as an additional workspace and shows how this design can allow both individual work and collaboration on group work simultaneously and enables workers to switch between the two where necessary. The sofas add a more relaxed element to space, whereas the desks fitted with computers keep it professional. There are unique touches such as the drum kit and the pool table, which are great for adding the social aspect when a break needs to be taken.
For some offices, a more flexible approach is needed, which involves giving employees the opportunity to work alone or together in a more conventional office space. This office allows just that, in keeping the area relatively conventional, but opening it up so that there are no cubicles or enclosed spaces. The ongoing desk around the edge enables workers to complete individual tasks alone, however, the booths and tables towards the back of the room allow employees to collaborate. This kind of flexible area is great for those who are using the collaborative office as their entire workspace, as there are multiple options depending on what workers’ needs are at any one time while saving space.
Another approach that is especially useful if you don’t have the space for implementing a large or open plan work area is creating smaller, more personal spaces to work in. These can allow a group of people at a time to use them to work on a project together, so they are able to efficiently come together and work in-person, as opposed to communicating via computer from their own individual desks.
This office has made use of a little amount of space by creating three separate work areas, complete with tables and stools. Using the wall as a board saves space and is a clever way of being able to note down ideas. The design is also bright and modern and space can double up as a place to take a break or eat lunch as well.
Tips for Getting the Most from your Collaborative Workspace
Collaborative workspaces are most effective when a workforce can work well together. Without effective teamwork and employee engagement, a collaborative workplace is a pointless addition to any office. Teamwork can be gained through a number of activities such as team-building days out, office social events like dinners, Christmas parties, or pub quiz-type activities or even being able to socialize during breaks. Certainly, a collaborative workplace can help increase the teamwork levels in an office, but if they’re strong to start with, your collaborative office will help a business thrive. For more tips, this video from Adrianna Girdler outlines how to encourage team-building at work. There’s even a new, updated edition that offers suggestions on how to adapt these and further ideas for utilizing them in a virtual space.
Working in a pretty, bright workspace makes it so much easier to feel positive about doing a job. Minor details can make a huge difference to employees’ everyday mood and obviously happier employees are more likely to be productive. Whether you want to go for bright colors or a calmer, more neutral approach, make sure that the decor in your workspace is up-to-date, not looking shabby, and is an area people want to work in. This article from Clever has an extensive list of ideas for decorating an office for any space and any taste.
While we’ve touched on the idea that collaborative workspaces can help to improve the communication between employees, it’s important to note that this doesn’t happen on its own. Members of a workforce need to make sure that they are continuously communicating with all departments so that everyone knows what they are needed to do at any one time. While employees in one office can be up-to-date on their assignments for the week, it’s important that management and HR departments are also aware of what each group is up to, in order to schedule other meetings and separate deadlines. If communication is poor on the whole in a company, a collaborative workplace cannot fix this.
Using project collaboration software is a great way to make sure that all departments, teams, or groups are aware of their individual tasks and deadlines, and these are not overlapping or being overlooked. Slack is one example of project collaboration software that can be used continuously to bring teams together and report back on different projects throughout the week. Ensuring that responsibilities are fairly shared out and understood at the beginning of the week with team meetings is also an important step in improving communication.
Give Employees the Information They Need
Data shows that employees spend, on average, 25% of their time spent on a project researching the information that they need for it. This affects productivity a great deal, as they are unable to produce work as quickly and effectively as they otherwise would if they were provided with the info they needed from the start. Management should ensure that essential information is communicated to employees whenever it is needed, and they can use Customer Relationship Management software (CRM) can help them do this.
When it comes to dishing out info to employees, Forbes recommends referring to the four Ps;
- Portions; let the employee tell you what it is that they want to know, as there’s no point giving them all the information you have at once if they only need a fraction of it.
- Packaging; make the information easy to digest – don’t use long paragraphs or wordy sentences. Instead, use bullet points and highlight keywords, phrases, and important information.
- Placement; make sure that employees see the information that you’re giving them. Bulletin boards are often overlooked, and emails are sometimes not read. Having one site where information is regularly posted for all teams and departments means that nothing is missed, and employees are provided with what they need.
- Point-in-time; the best time to deliver messages to employees is in the morning, as they are yet to start their work and the information does not go overlooked. At the end of the day, employees are ready to clock off and are not keen to take on more information, so leave it until the next day to deliver.
Listen to Employees
Finally, the most important thing when creating a collaborative workspace is to listen to what your employees want from their workspace. A collaborative workplace are fantastic ways to increase productivity when they provide for what the members of the workspace want and need, however, when this doesn’t happen they can become arbitrary spaces. There’s no point creating something because it works for someone else – if it’s not something that would be used in your own environment, it’s a waste of time, money, effort, and space. Surveys and questionnaires work well to gain data from employees about what’s popular and what’s not, and this can be effectively implemented into the design of your space to benefit everyone.