How to Create More Collisions in Your Workplace

Under the right circumstances, a collision can be a good thing!

JLL’s spin on the employee break room — which they’ve dubbed “The Club” — in their new Chicago HQ. Image courtesy of JLL.

Collisions can be a good thing — under the right circumstances. Nobody wants to be in a fender bender. But when unlikely collaborators and ideas collide, that’s a different story.

“Accidental collisions” play a key role in innovation and workplace satisfaction. These chance meetings encourage employees to connect in ways they wouldn’t otherwise and can lead to surprisingly impactful results. In fact, unexpected conversations create opportunities for collaboration between unlikely partners and generally foster a happier, more productive workforce.

While these collisions may be spontaneous, the setting in which they occur is not. Companies can thoughtfully create work settings that drive the unexpected. And it pays off. Research shows that companies that successfully connect and engage employees yield almost 150 percent higher earnings per share compared to their peers.

More directly, it’s been proven that the physical environment plays a meaningful role in how people feel about their work. Futurist Jacob Morgan’s research uncovered that the physical space has one of the biggest influences on an employee’s experience at work, along with the cultural and technological environment. In Morgan’s study, companies that invested in space, culture, and technology not only attracted better talent than the competition, but also were more profitable and productive.

Bouncing around the office

Most of the time, inspiration doesn’t strike when you’re sitting behind a computer inside a cubicle. It comes from bouncing around ideas and interacting with other people. More companies are embracing open spaces for collaboration, but how can you tie that idea to the cultural and technological aspects that so heavily influence the work experience?

We thought through these issues in depth as we renovated our corporate headquarters in Chicago, where more than 1,200 people are spread across six floors. One of the focal points of the project is a gathering place for employees that fosters the entrepreneurial spirit of our company, encourages collaboration and innovation, and ultimately can help boost productivity.

We took a traditional employee gathering space that had a small kitchen with standard tables and chairs, and transformed it into a stylish two-story, employee-only lounge. Our spin on the employee break room, “The Club,” includes a coffee bar, comfortable seating options and flexible meeting space. It’s been even more popular than we expected, always teeming with people having both formal and informal ideation sessions.

As we planned the new space, we asked ourselves:

  • How do we break down walls, both figuratively and literally, in this space?

    There is a lot of talk inside organizations about breaking down silos, but physical barriers often get in the way. We wanted to give employees a reason to roam and run into people from different areas of the business. The Club would offer the perfect scenario in which these accidental collisions could occur. Physically, we created a connection between two floors through an open staircase, providing easy access from two floors.

  • How do we get people talking?

    Creating a collaborative culture is as much about design as it is personal effort, so we thought about how the space could encourage these interactions. The coffee bar is surrounded by bar-style seats where employees can have on-the-fly conversations while they enjoy their drink or wait for one. Plenty of tables and other comfortable seating are available for those who want to use the space for longer, informal meetings.

  • How can we make it fun and inviting?

    We wanted to design an area that employees would actually seek out to break up their day. Our concept was to create the modern-day “water cooler” effect by taking the informal gathering out of a drab galley kitchen and into a space that would create unique and inspiring experiences for our employees. This space has more of a lounge feel with stylish furniture and chandeliers.

  • How can we enable people to be productive?

    Nothing is more frustrating than a spotty Internet connection or no place to plug in when you’re working away from your desk. We loaded up the space with power sources and stable WiFi. We also wanted made sure there were plenty of options both for individuals who wanted a change of scenery to work and groups who want to gather in the space.

The Club helps us achieve multiple goals through a single space — it’s as much a reflection of how much we value our diverse employees with individual needs and work styles as it is a place to collaborate and foster innovation.

Workplaces today must accommodate several different generations, different work styles and constantly changing needs. What inspires creativity now and keeps employees happy is likely to change in another 10 years. One thing that won’t change is the need to bring people throughout the organization together. How can you create space that will help re-ignite in-person conversations? Collaborative spaces aren’t just good for innovation, they can be good for the corporate soul and help foster a stronger sense of community.

And that’s a collision worth planning.

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