Collaboration and Productivity in the Workplace

by Warren on September 12, 2011

This is the continuation in a series of articles focused on the changing work environment and the utilization of space. This paper follows up on an earlier blog on changing workplace demographics (see Is your office space disengaging your people?) and dives into how technology is changing the way employees interact. These changes create an urgent imperative for organizations to modify the way office space is designed so that the space provides employees with the ability to be more collaborative (both inter-personally and through technology) and to create space that leads to higher performance and increased productivity–all vital factors for organizations looking to achieve competitive advantages as well as sustained business growth and profitability.

Collaboration, teamwork, knowledge sharing, etc., remain key areas of focus for leading companies because of the proven positive business outcomes that result. Flat organizations continue to replace hierarchical ones, because collaborative environments are more effective than those that promote individual achievement. A collaborative, team-oriented culture is the future of the workplace and any work environment that increases the opportunity for workers to come together will increase their productivity and allow for greater personal growth and development that leads to improved learning, faster decision making and more innovation.

Although most workers feel and believe they need to work together and partner with others to get work done efficiently (a message they also continuously hear from their leadership), their work environments (conceived, designed and built for a different operating model) are typically not conducive to that thought process. For example, an oft-heard frustration is the inability to get a conference room for teams to meet. This is an outdated approach. Creatively designed space which encourages collaboration and team work has proven to be successful in engaging employees and driving high performance which is very different from the traditional office-cubical-conference room setup that does not foster interaction amongst employees. One of the changes that will have to occur for true work collaboration leading to higher performance is a strategic shift in corporate thinking in how space is designed, organized and ultimately built.

Another complicating factor to consider is the distributed and/or alternative workplace and how to effectively bring collaboration into an environment that is forcing its workers to be outside of the office. This reality is also being driven by changing employee demographics where younger populations are the norm and these workers have very different expectations for how to most effectively and efficiently reach goals faster. Technology is enabling this trend—iPads and smart phones are beginning to displace even the laptop (itself a disruptive technology of the past decade or two); video conferencing (often on these same devices) no longer requires video conference rooms; social media is the preferred method of communication for large and growing portions of the employee base, etc. As companies continue to push for cost reductions there will be continued pressure to reduce the amount of space by leveraging technology.

And younger employees are demanding more of a voice in where, with whom, and how they work. Organizations will have to involve their employees in creating solutions that meet these expectations as well as foster collaboration. To gain maximum advantage from space utilization executives and corporate real estate managers need to re-evaluate how work gets done, who is doing it, where it’s being done and involve their employee teams in the evaluation and development process of space utilization and design. If collaboration in the workplace is the goal then companies will need to collaborate with their employees to create the best possible work environments that ensure business success.

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