How to unlock the power of collaborative spaces for the modern workplace

Invest in spaces that support collaboration and human connection
September 1, 2023
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  1. Modern collaborative spaces prioritize intentional design, rooted in data, to foster both productivity and human connection.
  2. Avoiding misallocation of these spaces is essential to harness their full potential and to meet the diverse needs of employees.
  3. A blend of various space types, employee autonomy, and social experiences differentiates the modern office from remote setups.

Collaborative spaces reinvented

The world of work is more dynamic today than ever before, and workplace teams must reinvent collaborative spaces to support a variety of needs. Rather than haphazard clusters of tables and chairs, modern collaborative spaces are intentionally designed environments that offer reconfigurable furniture, tech-enabled tools, and amenities that support productive teamwork.

The psychology behind collaborative spaces

Updating collaborative spaces for the modern office provides crucial workplace benefits that are rooted in human psychology. People need about six hours of social interaction each day to thrive, and being social at work can boost performance by 25%. Collaborative spaces create prime opportunities to tap into the psychological benefits of socialization, which provides a host of company benefits, including higher retention, greater productivity, and more innovation.

How to create modern collaborative workspaces

Crafting the perfect collaborative spaces for today's office goes beyond mere aesthetics. It's about understanding employee habits, offering diverse environments, and fostering authentic in-person interactions that a home setting can't provide.

Design using data

A good collaborative space is designed around data about how your office is used. Do employees prefer working together in formal meeting rooms, or do they gather in more casual areas? How does the location of a space, such as its proximity to other spaces or access to views and natural light, impact its usage? What spaces are underutilized that could be transformed into collaboration hubs?

Answering these types of questions enables you to lay the groundwork for a successful reinvention of your collaborative spaces. Any updates that aren't backed by occupancy data are essentially educated guesses, which can lead to expensive mistakes. Data-backed design decisions ensure your changes align with unbiased data, making it faster, easier, and less expensive to reap the benefits of successful collaborative workspaces.

Provide a variety of space types

In a 2023 Gensler report, 83% of employees revealed that they would be willing to spend more time in the office if it offered their ideal mix of work experiences.

What would bring hybrid workers back to the office? A better mix of new experience inside their workplace.

Collaborative spaces can satisfy many of the work experiences employees are looking for.

  • Clubhouse: Informal spaces for connection and community
  • Coffee shop: Laid-back work cafes that can accommodate small groups
  • Creative lab: Tech-enabled spaces where colleagues can experiment and collaborate
  • Boutique hotel: Hospitality-infused, amenity-rich spaces for meetings and collaborations
  • Residential: A home-like atmosphere that can be used for collaboration or socialization
  • Conference center: Formal areas for group work or large meetings

“Providing a balanced array of work settings and amenities can not only empower employees to work better but create a better work experience,” Gensler’s Global Director of Workplace Research Janet Pogue McLaurin says.

Support employee autonomy

The most successful collaborative spaces are extremely flexible. The furniture is easy to reconfigure (e.g., tables on casters and moveable walls), and workplace policy encourages employees to make the spaces work for them.

Ford has had tremendous success with this. Their “freedom within a framework” policy empowers employees to create the space they need at any given moment. This ensures that the collaborative spaces it has invested in are essentially future-proof because they can be adapted to meet a wide range of needs.

Create social experiences

No matter how effective your teams are at remote collaboration, it will never deliver the same psychological impact that working together in person produces. Employees innately understand this and look to the office to provide collaborative areas that support unique social experiences they can’t get at home.

Creating social experiences may sound overwhelming, but it doesn’t mean your workplace teams have to orchestrate elaborate events or do any hands-on work in this area. Humans are social creatures, and if you provide the right mix of well-designed collaborative spaces, they will naturally create spontaneous and planned interactions that help forge better relationships, stronger culture, and more innovative collaboration.

How to avoid misuse of collaborative spaces

Redesigning your collaborative spaces based on data, employee feedback, and maximum flexibility has enormous potential to improve the employee experience and support overall business goals. However, that potential withers when the space is misused.

One of the most common misuses of collaborative space is employees doing solo work. Our own RTO experiment highlighted this issue, and we’ve heard the same from many of our customers. Employees have gotten used to working alone in large spaces like they do at home, and they’re bringing this new behavior to the office.

This misuse strains collaborative space availability and can force groups to work in alternate areas not designed to support their collaboration needs. Here are four tips to help you avoid the misuse of space so you can get the most out of your group spaces.

1. Audit space utilization

Sensor technology provides real-time analytics that can identify misallocation of space in the moment and overall trends in misuse. Conduct regular space audits to ensure collaborative areas aren't being used for individual work and small groups aren’t meeting in areas meant for larger gatherings.

If you discover regular misuse, this could indicate that employees need additional education about how to use these spaces, the collaborative areas need better signage identifying their intended usage, or your ratio of “me” to “we” space is off.

2. Educate employees

Keep employees in the loop about any office design or policy changes. Explaining the “why” behind the collaborative space updates ensures that workers know these changes are meant to facilitate better social experiences and provide tools to enhance collaboration, and this will help inform how they use the space.

It’s also important to identify the specific use cases each type of collaborative space best supports. For example, a work cafe is ideal for one-on-one mentorship, two- to three-person meetings, or casual socializing. This is especially helpful to introduce during employee onboarding.

Employee education should be ongoing rather than “one and done” training. Talk to employees regularly about using spaces correctly and the effects of misusing collaborative areas. Be sure to share positive news, too, such as examples of how a space benefitted a team’s collaboration or stats showing decreased space misallocation.

3. Create clear signage

The most effective spaces create affordances, which are features of the environment that prompt specific actions. They are subtle cues that help guide employees to use the space properly. For example, modular seating arrangements afford flexibility in grouping team members for collaborative work, from small team huddles to larger group discussions.

While affordances go a long way toward evoking correct actions, you can support them by creating clear signage for your collaborative spaces. Consider signage that indicates the ideal occupancy range for an area and the use cases it best supports, such as impromptu brainstorming sessions or hybrid meetings.

4. Use a booking system

A booking system is an effective way to streamline the use of shared spaces and encourage correct space utilization. An employee may see an empty group space and take advantage of it in the moment, but if they have to reserve a space in advance, they’re less likely to book a six-person meeting room when a phone booth is more appropriate.

A booking system also encourages teams to plan social or collaborative events and book spaces in advance, which helps ensure they can get the best space to fit their needs.

Invest in spaces that support collaboration and human connection

The intentional design of collaborative spaces, backed by data and an understanding of human psychology, enables organizations to harness the full potential of their teams. By addressing the evolving needs of employees and ensuring spaces are utilized efficiently, you can boost productivity and innovation while creating strong relationships and a better workplace experience for every member of your team.