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Creating Collaborative Spaces that Work

A Performance-based Approach to Successful Planning

Organizations recognize group work is central to success, but struggle to offer effective collaborative spaces

Historically, most collaboration occurred through formal, scheduled meetings having many participants. As a result, organizations have had years of experience building conference rooms and other formal meeting spaces. These spaces were designed to facilitate large group work processes, efficient exchanges of information, and decision making.

However, two elements of collaboration have fundamentally changed, both from the perspective of employees, and their organizations. First, employees increasingly desire social connection and engagement as part of their collaborative experience. Second, organizations need both operational excellence—and innovation—to succeed. Operational excellence is related to process efficiencies such as speed of group decision making. Innovation is nurtured through informal, social, creative interactions. This combination of shifting employee expectations of group work experience and emerging enterprise needs is driving the charge towards a greater variety of collaborative workspaces.

In response, the workplace is increasingly shifting from a “me” to a “we” work environment in which a wide assortment of technology-rich group spaces are offered. But the collaborative solutions are often hit-or-miss. Organizations are largely operating in the dark as they struggle to offer workspaces that successfully respond to these complex demands.

Most organizations consider the social component of work separate from “work” spaces. To foster social interaction, some copy the obvious characteristics of successful public spaces (the café, bar, market, lounge, etc.) mistakenly hoping that the variety of social interactions occurring in the public versions of these spaces will translate to a business setting.

Innovation can be fostered by building connection between people and the organization, integrating new, differing perspectives, and other social interactions. However, organizations have few insights into supporting innovation other than to encourage as much interaction as possible and “wait for the magic to happen.” Thus, many organizations recognize their group spaces are underperforming, but do not know how to respond other than to add more variations.

Effective group spaces support equal sharing, and diverse social exchanges

The demands on collaborative spaces has bifurcated to support not only good work process but also “soft” issues such as creativity and innovation, increasing social connection and diversity of thought, and perhaps even building a sense of community.

In this paper, we offer insights gathered from 38 leading organizations across nine industries on the nature of successful collaboration. This study presents a view into the future for creating and planning successful spaces that encourage productive exchanges, connection between people and technology, cooperation and sense of community.

Knoll engaged Ratekin Consulting, a leading workplace research firm, to gather information on world-class collaborative environments. The study used an electronic survey and interviews with corporate real estate and facilities directors to explore the planning, design and use of collaborative spaces and technologies. Participating organizations were selected based on their leadership in creating effective collaborative spaces, providing a diversity of perspectives.

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