Three Tips for Tailoring a Collaborative Workspace

When it comes to collaboration, one size does not fit all. Here are three tips for creating spaces that suit your company’s collaborative needs.

The Perkins+Will Boston office features a kitchen space that also serves as a meeting area, and an open office that provides collaboration spaces throughout the space. Photo by Richard Mandelkorn Photography.

Once upon a time, “collaboration” in the office happened at the water cooler. Soon whiteboards, a rolling office chair, and a coffee pot began to appear. What appeared as relaxing and not working to some became a whole new way to work, collaboratively, in the office.

But how has collaboration advanced today? With the rise of the millennial worker, technology, and the “always on” generation, the environments in which we work are shifting. But, across industries, collaboration and space required for collaboration mean very different things depending on where you work. The biggest mistake companies can make today is to assume they need the same type of collaboration setup as their neighbor.

Here are three ways to customize collaboration space to fit your industry and office culture:

Use flexible furniture.

During the dot-com era, furniture companies started doing research on workplace culture and different ways various industries would want to collaborate. They were onto something. The biggest extreme was (and still is) those in creative services versus those in the financial sector. Nowadays, creatives – as they’re called – have more dynamic furniture and flexibility. A high-top table with high-top chairs and a rolling whiteboard will be more at home in a marketing agency than in a law firm. A conference room with classic rolling chairs will help those in the financial services – who are used to working at individual cubicles – leave their desks and financial statements or reports.

Schneider Electric’s HQ in Andover, Mass. shows a mix of informal and formal collaboration spaces that support multiple working styles. Photo by Richard Mandelkorn Photography.

Design spaces that support technology.

Financial services usually have individual desks or cubicles with higher enclosures for dealing with confidential, private information. When it comes to sharing their data or laptops, smaller rooms for maintaining privacy – while still allowing for discussions – help them collaborate. Those in creative jobs working on visual projects require larger areas to display their work to garner input and additional ideas. Projection areas, walls for storyboards, and video conferencing require open spaces rather than closed-off rooms.

Create an environment that reflects your brand identity.

Branding the work environment and understanding the culture creates an identity. While creatives value collaborative space, they don’t want to feel like areas are designated specifically for collaboration; they don’t want to “go to” the collaborative space. Rather, the entire office environment should be conducive to creativity. An employee at a tech startup company would value a dynamic office space where you can turn around and speak with a colleague while also having a cup of coffee. An accounting firm would be more apt to have a desk designated for working, and a room that may be open for collaborating with colleagues – a more controlled environment. In science and technology, there are completely different areas for the lab and an office where research is analyzed and discussed – both require space to interface workers with media that helps them express their newest ideas.

Regardless of the industry, collaboration and interaction with colleagues can take place, but how and where these employees wish to meet is dependent on their office culture. Recognizing these personalities and level of comfort can best design the modern-day water cooler space.

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