Founder and Partner of Fresh Thinking Group, also a proactive investor and mentor.
The Covid-19 lockdown has led companies of all sizes to rethink their office layouts for future collaboration. As we make way for stringent safety measures and welcome the age of remote working, it can be helpful to think back to the collaborative projects that you tasked your team with before lockdown. Did those projects produce the results that you were anticipating? Did your team communicate effectively? If not, perhaps your office space was hindering collaboration without you realizing it. Now is the time to make a change.
The Pitfalls Of Poor Collaboration
When we understand the physical pitfalls of poor collaboration, we gain instant insights into why a project isn’t performing as well as we’d like. With a collection of insights into where your team’s collaboration is falling short, you can identify how to transform your office layout to best support staff and encourage effective collaboration.
A helpful way to start is to explore the warning signs of open-plan office problems that could be hindering your efforts. Fortunately, there are easy solutions that you can implement to overcome these issues, boost morale and get your company’s collaborative juices flowing. First, though, here are the snags of the traditional, open-plan office that you need to be aware of.
Snags Of The Open-Plan Office
Employers sometimes opt for open-plan offices because it’s easier to monitor employees in open spaces. However, “monitoring” conveys a lack of trust. Employees may feel micromanaged if employers continually watch them.
On top of this, it’s difficult to control volume in open-plan offices. The noise and lack of privacy can stunt collaboration and disrupt employee focus. In fact, many employees find open-plan offices so noisy and distracting that they seek quiet spaces outside of the shared environment to problem solve or share ideas.
While a well-managed, open-plan office can foster a degree of effective collaboration, the open layout often becomes a hindrance. However, you can implement the following three office-space strategies to redefine your workplace for improved collaboration after the lockdown. By taking advantage of these solutions, you can improve your team’s work culture, engagement and output.
1. Remote Working
Millions of companies have proven the value of remote working during the lockdown. When companies lift geographical barriers, their recruitment talent pools grow exponentially. As a result, many collaborative teams are made up of members who don’t even work in the same country, let alone the same office. Plus, remote working doesn’t mean sacrificing collaboration.
Employers who hire remote workers can ease the burden of planning office layouts, which is especially handy given some new Covid-19 office-layout legislation. Instead, employers who hire remote workers can focus on providing office equipment so that remote staff can work safely from home. Remote employees require appropriate office chairs and display-screen equipment to avoid repetitive strain injuries (and other office-related injuries). Remote workspaces also need to be as soundproof and private as possible so that employees can partake in conference calls and work without distraction.
2. Standing Workstations
Working 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, in the same desk-chair formation can stunt productivity. This set routine often doesn’t inspire creative teams. Have you noticed that your collaborative teams hang around the watercooler or group in the kitchen to discuss their projects? This is usually a sign that your team needs a creative space to brainstorm.
Standing workstations are an excellent solution for teams that need an informal space to plan and discuss potential roadblocks. These workspaces are space-efficient, providing surfaces for laptops and documents without cluttering the space that teams need to brainstorm. Standing workstations allow staff to leave their desks and work in a new environment, which can stimulate creative problem-solving. Plus, NHS research shows that sitting at a desk all day every day could increase the risk of cancer, weight gain and diabetes.
3. Temporary Meeting Spaces
If your boardroom is constantly booked up for management meetings, collaborative teams will probably struggle to hold their own meetings and work together effectively. In this case, workgroups tend to crowd around small desks, struggling to communicate among the hustle and bustle of a busy office.
It’s important to provide the meeting spaces that your team needs. If you can’t designate another meeting room for collaborative teams, temporary partition walls can be an effective compromise. If you’re short on space, facilitating a meeting zone can take a bit of artistic thinking and reconfiguration. But, with a creative mindset and a few extra desks, you can create a semi-private meeting space that will help collaborative teams meet their project milestones.
Healthy, Collaborative Workplaces
You can take these additional safety precautions to make your team spaces Covid-19-secure:
• Introduce hygiene controls, such as sanitizers and Perspex or Plexiglas divider screens.
• Step up cleaning procedures so that all surfaces are disinfected frequently.
• Stagger office hours for your team — the office will be much quieter, and you’ll be able to achieve social distancing if collaborative groups work at different times.
• Arrange workstations so that employees are working back to back or side to side, instead of face to face.
• Replace hot desks with set workstations for individual employees.
• Remove any absorbent furniture or fabrics.
• Declutter all workstations.
• Leave two meters between each workstation.
Detailed guidance on how to work safely and prevent the spread of coronavirus is available on the Health and Safety Executive website and other health and government websites.
By offering a workspace that keeps employees safe and being flexible, you can enable your employees to work comfortably and collaboratively.