Monday, 1 June 2015

Office common space as a tool for collaboration

Often it is people that define the success of an organisation. Making the most out of them is essential. The various different approaches in organisational structures are meant to contribute to that. Using talented people as units or in teams in a balanced and effective way is another way to add to the boost. Increasing casual interaction, even if that is not directly work-related may be another, fun way to get better efficiency at the workplace. For the latter to happen, the way that the office space is structured is important.
'A coffee machine at work' by
Wolfgang Lonien under a CC license

Academic environment aside, common spaces in the workplace are considered by some employers as procrastination hot spots or, at best, temptation areas where employees lose valuable work time. Likewise, third parties, i.e., people outside an organisation may often perceive negatively the practice of employees spending time in common spaces provided within their organisation.

However, today, it is increasingly realised that the interaction among co-workers in the common spaces of a workplace can be beneficial for the organisation.
The benefit that is the easiest to notice is the effect on people's stress levels and their creativity. Allowing people to chat and interact over coffee or lunch is a great way to allow them to relax and de-focus from their tasks in a productive way. This is not something that can be achieved by the open-office approach. On the contrary, actually, there are indications that the open-office design leads to higher employee stress levels.

Interaction during worktime at common spaces can lead to more benefits, such as knowledge transfer amongst co-workers, informal support on work tasks, mentoring, etc. The beauty of such interactions is that it is spontaneous and, when it concerns any kind of support/ troubleshooting, it is focused and not restrained by corporate procedures. So, for instance, it is possible to help a colleague with his/ her presentation structure, on crafting an optimal excel formula or on choosing an in-house training course, even if he/ she is in a different department or working on a completely different topic.

Despite some persisting scepticism for the beneficial effects of having common spaces in the workplace and encouraging people to move around and use them, data are beginning to show up adding hard evidence to what was until recently mostly theory and speculation. In some cases positive correlations have been observed between 'collisions between co-workers within the common areas of a workspace' and productivity metrics (depending on the type of organisation, e.g., volume of sales).

Providing common spaces is not an expensive thing for an organisation to do. True, some corporate environments have opted for fancy choices, but in most cases a couple of sofas, a few chairs and a coffee table or two in a well-lit, clean room - in addition to having a fridge and a coffee machine available, can do the trick. Having access to a garden with space to walk or rest would be an added bonus.

Some bosses may persist in the issue of employees time spent in the common spaces. There is no such specific law provision universally available. In some cases, break time is foreseen or, even mandated for people involved in carrying out certain tasks. Break time may or man not count within work time. In some other cases there may be no direct reference to break time, in which case corporate policies may be in place. Currently, however, there is the increasing trend of recording productive hours at work. Such practices give ground for some flexibility for employees to manage their time according to their needs. In this particular case, let's keep in mind that providing common spaces and allowing for break time seems to be a win-win practice for employers and employees!

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