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Collaboration, more than just a buzz word

28 March 2012

Collaboration is much more than just a buzz word - it is transforming businesses and workplaces right across the globe, says Andy Graham.



Business is increasingly a team sport, with colleagues relying on collaboration and group work more than ever before and so today’s workplace must adapt, or risk being left behind. Embracing the changes and encouraging collaboration also offers businesses the opportunity to inspire staff and increase productivity during a time of stretched resources and low staff morale.

The challenging economic climate has forced businesses to reduce costs and become more efficient in order to survive. As a first step, many businesses have chosen to slash the amount they spend on office space, rather than reduce staff numbers. A collaborative workplace must maximise every square inch of office space to attract and engage employees, nurture personal wellbeing, communicate the company’s brand and encourage innovation.

As people are working harder than ever, so should their offices.

Precious space should be maximised by stripping out bulky individual desks, replacing them with smaller work areas and using the extra space as areas that everyone can use to work together, such as impromptu meeting areas, project rooms and huddle rooms. This trend is being replicated right across the UK, with 57% of companies reconfiguring individual space to accommodate team areas and 41% of businesses creating cafes, meeting spaces and alternative work-settings to encourage greater collaboration among staff.

Technological advancements over the past decade have enabled workplace collaboration to flourish and have transformed the way people work today.

The availability of wi-fi has helped employees overcome the challenge that distance can pose; allowing teams across various locations to work effectively by using a fast, reliable and wireless internet connection. Meanwhile, the availability of software applications, such as Skype, has allowed videoconferencing to become as convenient as making a telephone conference call and collaborative work-settings, such as media:scape, allow multiple users to interact in real-time, sharing content quickly and easily.

In today’s 24/7 business environment, it is essential that employers are flexible and adapt to the changing way people are working. Technological developments have given employees the freedom to leave the office while staying in touch with colleagues, leading to a rise in mobile workers. This trend is set to continue, with recent statistics indicating that 34.9% of the global workforce will be mobile by 2013.

As well as often increasing productivity, flexible working helps attract the best talent and keep employees engaged and satisfied in their job role.

Back in the workplace, the choice of furniture and its layout can encourage collaboration, or restrict it. Team work is facilitated by spacious, open-plan offices. Installing benches that seat a row of people, rather than individual work spaces, is an efficient way of promoting collaboration and making the most of available space. Working on parallel work surfaces, with no space-defining panels, assigned storage or privacy encourages increased communication and information sharing.

The flow of ideas between staff is central to a successful collaborative office, with 82% of white-collar workers saying they need to partner with others to get work done. This reliance on continuous collaboration is a trend which is set to continue as 'Generation Y' workers enter the workplace, bringing with them a shift in attitudes and behaviours.

Generation Y is the term used to describe the demographic born between the 1980s and the mid-1990s and, according to the research, they are influencing offices faster than any other previous generation.

Gen Y workers are defined as those who typically like high-intensity work, often use two monitors and keyboards, switch constantly between activities, check frequently for feedback from peers and continuously collaborate with colleagues. They also have the ability to focus their attention intently on activities amid a chaotic work environment, plugging in a laptop or smart phone and shutting out any distractions.

It is important that companies respond to this influx of Gen Y workers by adapting their workspaces to attract the best and brightest employees. Even in today’s tough economic climate where the unemployment pool is high, companies wishing to attract, engage and retain the best workers that will help grow their business will need to consider these emerging trends and, in some cases, transform their operating culture.

Businesses need flexible workspaces that cater for different tasks, providing open, informal areas for collaboration and group discussions. Enabling staff to get away from their desks, phones and computer screens is key to increasing collaboration between colleagues. Team hubs or pods, enclosed by hanging curtains or whiteboards create a sense of enclosure to foster smaller team work, but can also be opened up to allow wider communication with a larger group of people.

The type of seating and furniture used in breakout areas also has a significant impact on the way people communicate. We are increasingly designing offices to feel more like living room spaces - using a variety of different chairs, tables and writing surfaces in break-out areas to create a less conventional environment which fosters creative ideas to be shared and developed.

Creating a workplace that supports collaboration is vitally important in today’s world. By providing working environments which reflect the expectations and needs of the changing workplace, businesses can attract the best people and maximise the productivity of their staff, helping an organisation’s creative development and allowing it to fulfil its growth potential.

Andy Graham is founder and group executive chairman of Beacons Business Interiors (Bbi)




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