Collaboration has become so important in the modern workplace, it’s no surprise that we’re designing offices to increase spontaneous interaction. Through collaboration we can speed up problem-solving, share a greater range of expertise and create a sense of community.

The reality is that in every organisation, people have their own schedules, priorities and of course different ways of working. How often do you send an email to someone you’re ‘collaborating’ with when you could just walk down the corridor to see them?  When people are in different vicinities it’s can be even harder, especially as remote working grows and our supply chains become increasingly global.

One way to address these challenges is through office design. With careful planning and great design, it is possible to create workplaces that enhance collaboration.

Location, Location, Location

You don’t need Kirsty and Phil to tell you that where people sit will impact the way they collaborate. For teams that work together, having the opportunity to work in the same neighbourhood will promote interactions and give the atmosphere a buzz, whilst also allowing colleagues to be privy to interactions between others that they may be able to help with. The challenge with this is that you don’t want to start creating silos that inhibit interactions with other parts of the business. So, to avoid this you need to give due consideration to the floor plan and layout.

Collaboration spaces

Providing flexible seating, huddle spaces and acoustically-designed seating areas across the open plan provides colleagues with touch-down points to meet or exchange ideas without pre-booking a meeting space. While promoting the free-flow of information, it also paves the way for the serendipitous interactions that occur from moving around the office.

Kitchens, cafes and breakout areas can fuel collaboration - not only by being a place to have meetings and work with colleagues, but also by chance encounters from using shared facilities. It's often thought that these are classed as 'secondary' work settings because they don't feature a desk and fixed monitor, however, we're seeing an increased trend towards devoting equal or even more floorspace to these more casual settings. Employers are acknowledging that staff enjoy working from these more relaxed settings where they can work on their laptop, have a coffee and be in control of their environment. So much so that Anomaly recently dedicated an impressive 75% of their floorspace to dedicated casual working areas.

Adding writable walls into your office design for people to capture ideas on the go is another great way to encourage collaboration through smart office design. At The Alan Turing Institute we added whiteboards and blackboards across the office fit out for researchers to capture those ‘Eureka!’ moments as they happen.

Enabling technology

Getting the right technology in place can also be a real boost to collaboration if you get it right. Display screens in your huddle spaces make it easier for colleagues to share and discuss their ideas in the meeting areas. Interactive touch screens can create more engaging meetings that provide a more tactile element to the usual PowerPoint formula. 

However you design your office, collaboration will be at the heart of most businesses so giving your teams the best opportunity for this to happen is a win-win for all involved.

Floor plans and open plans

Open plan offices have become the preferred choice of office layout across the UK in recent years, in part because of their ability to promote collaboration. The secret to achieving the most from your open plan is to provide staff with reasons and opportunities to move around the space, so that they interact with others. Steve Jobs famously obsessed over the location of the toilets in his office designs for this exact reason – he knew that if people had to move about, they would be more inclined to engage in those serendipitous meetings that could spark ideas and become the next big thing! If people are moving around to use a shared kitchen, café, printer or bins, they can be having those water-cooler moments without even going to the water-cooler!

People on different floors? At AMC Networks we cut through the floor to create a stairwell and light-filled atrium space to connect the floors. Rather than joining the lift queue, people can now walk up the stairs, boosting interactions and also creating a more active workplace.

Does the c-suite need a c-suite?

It has long been the practice of senior executives to have a private office – preferably a corner office with a great view. Yet in recent years we’ve seen a rebuttal of this trend, led by entrepreneurial pioneers like Mark Zuckerburg and Richard Branson who believe it’s far more beneficial to have a desk with the rest of the team. It helps them to share ideas, support problem-solving and engage in collaboration with everyone – not just a privileged few.