By Stephen Searer.
I’ve written a lot about workplace collaboration and showed many offices that put collaboration at the forefront of their goals. While I don’t think designing for collaboration is inherently a bad thing, it seems that it isn’t always wonderful.
According to an interesting whitepaper by Gensler, the most significant factor in workplace effectiveness is not collaboration, but rather individual focus work. It also happens to be that focus is measured as the least supported workplace activity.
If you work in a so-called “collaborative office”, you’ll undoubtedly agree with these findings. One reason is probably because in the ravenous desire to keep up with the trends of open, collaborative office spaces – employers and office planners decided to simply foist the design onto many employees rather than finding out what actually made sense for employee effectiveness and morale. Another reason is that placing employees into an open arrangement does not always equal a collaborative environment.
“Workplace strategies that sacrifice individual focus in pursuit of collaboration will result in decreased effectiveness for both.
It’s not difficult to guess why this is the case. When people’s most important reported work activity is the one least supported by the workplace, the result is frustration, with a domino effect on the other work modes. A frustrated person is highly unlikely to spin his chair around and happily collaborate or socialize; a frustrated mind is unlikely to learn; a frustrated employee is unlikely to be engaged or productive.
These findings are not a repudiation of collaboration, but rather an embrace of focus. When it can be achieved, good things happen.”
Balancing The Work Modes
Workplace design is based on the idea that there are essentially four modes of activity that take place in an office. The goal of an office designer should be to create a workplace that allows employees to freely interchange between these modes throughout the workday.
Desks are not good places for group learning. Open office spaces are not good for socializing. Lunch rooms are not good for focus.
An office that balances these modes well will be a workplace where employees can be maximally effective in their workdays.
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