18 March, 2024
Collaboration is the future of workplaces
Why are collaborative spaces important in the workplace, what do they look like, and how will they continue to evolve in the future?

Hybrid working has placed greater emphasis on the purpose of the office. Far from making dedicated working destinations redundant, the ability to work from home or places outside the office, has shone a light on the importance of an office for specific tasks, especially building brand culture and collaboration. As a result, there has been a growing want and need to develop more collaborative spaces in offices. So, what does that really mean?


Do people really want collaborative offices?

Post-pandemic, workplace trends that were already in motion both escalated and have started to become better defined. The office has proven that it does not only have a role in the future of work, but an extremely important one. That said, it’s no longer a place where people go and sit in rows upon rows of desks all day long without interacting.

Instead, offices are dynamic places where people can spend time operating in a way they can’t elsewhere, be that at home or anywhere else.

For some, that might be finding quiet space in a dedicated meeting room to do focused work or make calls. For others it may be having access to facilities or equipment. For most people, the office is also a place where they can spend time with colleagues and clients, collaborating, connecting, having in-person meetings and impromptu conversations that are less likely to happen via video call.

This need is both influencing and being influenced by office design, enabling people to have an enhanced workplace experience, meeting the needs of companies and employees alike by delivering solutions that drive the behaviours, productivity, engagement and outcomes desired.

This is apparent in the numbers both from a organisation perspective, and from an employee perspective, despite the commonly reported friction between the two.


The business case for collaborative offices

If we look at the business perspective first, a Knight Frank (Y)OUR SPACE survey of 373 global businesses (who collectively employ over 10 million people worldwide) found that 55% of businesses sought to increase the proportion of collaborative space in their offices in the last few years. The objective was better in-person connectivity, wellbeing and the development of workplace culture.

If we look to the great innovators of our age – the likes of TikTok, Netflix, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, the value of the workplace has been highly lauded post-pandemic. All of these leaders have heralded the power of collaboration and a collaborative culture for decades, but the role of the office and dedicated spaces to achieve that has been more of a focus since 2020.

Amazon itself declared in 2021 that they were adopting plans to “return to an office-centric culture as our baseline”, with CEO Andy Jassy saying of remote working:

“You just don’t riff the same way, so it’s really changed the way that we’ve had to think about how we drive innovation, and how we solicit information from our builders and the types of meetings that we run.”

Their memo on the matter in the aftermath of Covid, stated:

“Our plan is to return to an office-centric culture as our baseline. We believe it enables us to invent, collaborate, and learn together most effectively.”

The employee case for collaborative offices

A survey by recruitment platform Indeed found that amongst the things many people missed about the office when working from home full time was that connectivity – both personal and professional, with their colleagues.

The figures showed that 45% missed in-person meetings with their coworkers, finding that video conferencing platforms can lead to miscommunication as social cues and body language get lost on screen. Many also expressed video conferencing fatigue. Meanwhile, 73% missed socialising in person, including impromptu interactions between meetings or going about daily activities. Many also felt more connected to their company’s culture when they are in an office.

Making the case for private as well as collaborative spaces in the office, and this emphasis on a dynamic working environment for different needs, 64% said they missed having fewer distractions at the office, finding that children, pets, outside noise and household chores cause a distraction.

The key, it seems is that employees want mobility and flexibility rather than to be defined all day long by a set physical space.


What are the benefits of collaborative workplaces?

Collaboration in the workplace and the benefits it can offer in the right circumstance are not a new idea.

However, the absence of collaborative opportunities in the lockdown years shone a spotlight on its merits, while the change in how we use our workplaces has provided opportunities to nurture collaboration in more varied and nuanced ways.

Within that we can create opportunities for planned collaboration, as well as harness the power of coincidental encounters across different people, teams and departments. These can be equally powerful opportunities for innovation, problem solving and healthy teamwork that are not the result of planned meetings and that require us to create space for unexpected opportunities.


The benefits of collaborative workplaces

Broadly speaking, the benefits of collaboration at work, and spaces that encourage collaborative work processes are widely reported as including (but not limited to):

  • Improved productivity
  • More effective problem solving
  • Better workplace relationships
  • Innovative new ideas and solutions
  • Increased productivity
  • Idea generation
  • Greater efficiency
  • Improved learning and development
  • Engaged and aligned teams
  • Appreciation of different perspectives
  • Improved talent retention
  • Improved business agility
  • Better client relationships

The benefits of chance moments at work

When it comes to the more subtle examples of collaboration through chance, the benefits are no less powerful. For example, news site Fast Company quoted Anita Williams Woolley, an associate professor of organisational behaviour and theory at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, who said:

“In the process of moving around the office, you run into people. These are people who know something about your domain [of work], but maybe aren’t working on the exact same thing as you. And these conversations are likely to bring up links to things tangentially related to your work, and suggest a new association and bring about creative insight.”

Williams Woolley also notes the importance of movement throughout the office – breaks, which form an essential part of our ability to collaborate, communicate, innovate and problem solve. She says:

“We know, from the psychology of productivity and problem-solving, that periodic breaks are really beneficial,” continuing: “There is a phenomenon in psychology, around creativity and problem-solving . . . where when you stop working on a problem, you continue to ruminate on it, and when you return to it, new things occur to you that otherwise would not have.”

We see this idea played out in the likes of Apple’s 2.8 million sq. ft. workspace. The vast campus accommodating 12,000 people was designed specifically to encourage collaboration between workers and departments, with a special emphasis on movement. Jonathan Ive, Apple’s former chief design officer told Wired at the time of completion that it was “a building where so many people can connect and collaborate and walk and talk.”


What does collaborative office design look like?

With this fresh take on how we use our offices, collaboration can be harnessed in more ways than ever before. In some contexts, that’s about bringing whole teams together in auditorium style meetings, and it might be spaces to practically work on projects and ideas around large tables.

However, it might be making space for those more subtle connection between colleagues from different departments – waiting in the queue for a cup of coffee at the in-house coffee bar for example or passing on a centralised staircase and having an opportunistic catch-up.

How this plays out in terms of design is ultimately dependent on the individual company, team, location and the wants, needs, functions and aspirations of the organisation. However, there are certain hallmarks that are becoming widely adopted and tailored to those bespoke needs.

A key feature is that desk-to-people ratios are typically down with agile working remaining a function of modern life, allowing space to be put to more varied use. Therefore, hot-desking in open plan offices, combined with lockers and secure spaces for employees to store their personal items, are becoming much more prevalent. This opens opportunities to provide those more collaborative opportunities as well as private workspaces for dedicated tasks and meetings.

None of this necessarily means reducing space; it means using it differently. In fact, Knight Frank’s survey suggested that 65% of businesses plan to either increase or maintain the amount of office space they have. They found businesses are seeking to create agile workspaces that include open plan work environments, roof terraces, collaborative spaces, breakout areas, communal meet-up spaces, quiet pods, phone booths, auditoriums, and event spaces.

This is very much in line with what we see, know and experience at Maris, where all our work is underpinned by workplace analysis surveys and assessments into organisations and their wants and needs before we begin any design. Based around the behaviours and aspirations both of leadership and the teams, we have created offices that bring out the best in businesses today and enable them to evolve going forward. For example:


Practicing what we preach at our in-house coffee shop

The space that’s at the heart of our own office is the coffee shop – a feature that many of our clients ask us to replicate in their spaces once they’ve experienced it. Not simply a coffee station, but a space that mimics the best of high street cafe experiences (without having to pay for it). Designed to have a small queue and space to accommodate it, this is a place that’s always full of positive energy, where the barista remembers everyone’s order and where people open conversations.


A variety of spaces for conversation and connection

At the UK headquarters for leading tech firm ServiceNow, collaboration and an amenity rich environment was an essential feature of the workplace. There was a focus on more hub locations to enable teams to gather and meet, more flexible workspace and more community spaces. For example, open spaces and collapsable walls provided an opportunity to expand and contract areas for different team sizes and collective conversations whilst still retaining necessary privacy. Meanwhile, a variety of seating areas ranging from dedicated desk space to private pods, lounge areas and a convivial kitchen area all lend themselves to easy conversations and connections.

Bringing teams together with brand and space

Cassava Technologies is a Pan-African technology leader that brings multiple brands under its one wing, making an emphasis on collaboration and communication a pivotal part of their London HQ. The space is based on their star-shaped logo and its yin yang structure, which is a good indicator of the ethos in the space. Supporting connectivity throughout, you enter straight into a co-working space with a vibrant breakout area at the front akin to a business lounge, so staff and visitors feel immediately enveloped into the vibrancy and energy of the environment. There’s also a clear flow through the space. For example, there’s an angled bar area and team spaces that openly face the boardroom, making it an inclusive world that absorbs clients into the heart of the business.

Want to create collaborative workspaces that support your business goals?

Speak to the team at Maris