Like inspiration, collaboration can’t be forced. It happens organically and often spontaneously. Collaboration is active and dynamic but also dependent upon the quality of people’s interactions. That’s why it can be so elusive.
When we began designing our own collaboration environment at Nureva, we asked ourselves what we could do at the ground level to foster collaboration. Then we went out and bought some furniture. Yes, really.
Anyone who’s ever decorated a room in a house knows that the style, amount and positioning of any furniture determines how people will experience the space and function within it. The same is true in any workplace. Next to technology, furniture is the element people interact with most. Our thinking was that if we wanted people to collaborate naturally and frequently, the furniture should support that goal.
Thinking outside the box
Right off the bat, we decided against cubicles. To us, they just didn’t speak to active and positive team collaboration nor to easily reconfigurable groupings.
Instead, we chose to experiment with tables that could accommodate up to 4 team members. We hypothesized that pods of 4 would foster connection and engagement while limiting the noise, interruptions and potential claustrophobia of larger groupings.
Our first iteration involved tables available from a well-regarded furniture manufacturer. We implemented both short and tall tables to accommodate preferences for sitting versus standing. People were particularly happy to be given the option to choose which they would use.
We enhanced these workstations with the Aeron chair and the Aeron stool to provide the best ergonomic experience for everyone. The Aeron chairs are more expensive than many other adjustable chairs, but for staff comfort and overall satisfaction, they can’t be beat.
Standing up for collaboration
People who chose to work at the tall tables did so to have the option of sitting or standing during the day. At the time, new research was emerging about the negative impact of prolonged periods of sitting, and these individuals were eager to have the option to adjust their position throughout the workday.
Over time, we discovered an added benefit. Standing actually led to more frequent and more effective collaboration. When standing at their workstations, people were more engaged – with their work and with each other. There was more energy at these tables than those where people sat all day. Meetings at our tall tables were more efficient than those where we all sat down.
It may be because standing inevitably requires us to be more active. A quick dash to a colleague’s chair seems like less of an effort when we’re already up. And the kind of lounging that can occur after hours of sitting just isn’t possible when standing. Or it may just be that enabling people to sit and stand as they needed throughout the day improved their physical well-being. In any case, our standing tables achieved exactly the outcome we were seeking – enhanced collaboration.
The only limitation? The narrow width of those original tables, which couldn’t comfortably accommodate people using large monitors or sitting directly across from each other. We quickly moved to a custom design, working with both a local interior designer and a contract furniture manufacturer. We retained the tall height but made our new tables 2 feet (61 cm) longer and 1 foot (31 cm) wider (significantly increasing each person’s workspace). And we kept the ends of each table open (the originals had been solid) to make it easier for people to stand close for collaboration or conversation.
Building a foundation
We’re happy with the outcome and continue to deploy similar workstations as we grow. And we’ve learned 3 key lessons that inform the rest of our design process: 1) It pays to design for specific, desired outcomes; 2) Experimentation pays off; 3) It’s important to leverage the unexpected benefits of those experiments.
It might not seem obvious or exciting, but furniture is a solid foundation for the collaboration environment you envision.
New study on workplace collaboration
Discover how the latest technology is making collaboration easier, faster and more creative in this new white paper from Wainhouse Research.
Posted on Nov 25, 2015 7:00:00 AM