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Supporting collaborative work styles: Modern offices

Linda Trim

How do you go about equipping the office for the ‘we’ rather than the ‘I’ way of working?

In today’s working environment, we are focused on collaboration more than ever before.

If you had to do an office survey, it would prove that over 85% of people need a partner or assistance to carry out their work. Indeed, collaboration doesn’t just happen in meeting rooms, but should be happening all the time - at desks, in passageways, on Skype, or even just through informal and spontaneous meetings or chats.  People are always communicating. Smartphones also allow people to communicate more often and in different ways. You no longer need to be stationed at your desk to receive a call but can be mobile while still getting your job done.

Offices need to keep up with the new and demanding ways of working

It is vital that workspaces support the collaborative trend. To work this way effectively, an office needs to cater for different kinds of working styles:

1.     "I work": This requires quiet, private space. It is often where experts need to work.  A space where people can focus without constant interruptions.

2.     “You and I work”: This involves work between two people and relatively simple communication.

3.    “We work”: This type of work involves a team of people working together.  It is the highest level of work in that it usually involves multi-tasking, and various disciplines are intertwined.  It also very often involves people from different locations.

Steelcase recorded that 70% of workers waste 15 minutes by just looking for a space to sit - before they can work or hold a meeting. A staggering 24% waste up to half an hour. Clearly, this means that we have to look carefully at the way in which workspaces are impacting productivity, and make the necessary changes.

Companies have many, many challenges to overcome with their workspaces

At most companies, there are standard, static workspaces and meeting spaces with very little choice of where and how to work.  Most meeting facilities need to be booked in advance, which means that people need to plan how they work for the day and doesn’t allow for spontaneity. Technology also impacts how we work. How would it transform a person’s day to be able to connect on a tablet or smartphone, and hold a conference call from any space in the office, rather than having to book a set space days in advance?

Redesign your company’s workspaces using these 4 principles

1.    Focus on the main activities and provide areas for these. Employees need space to be able to concentrate and focus, and they need space for social exchanges, e.g. passageways, meeting and training rooms. These can also be ‘think tank’ areas.

2.    Allow for a variety of different-sized workspaces and different technologies in various rooms. Collaborative work happens in spaces that accommodate a group of four to eight people - physically or virtually - or in a larger team space where people can still see each other.  Internet access is always very important.

3.    Provide collaborative tools – such as whiteboards - which allow people to record ideas, illustrate their thoughts and allow others to visualise what is on their minds.  These tools provide information persistence and shared knowledge.

4.    Give project teams their own dedicated space. It is great for project teams to have a unique space where they can strategise (not a space that is shared with clients and needs to get packed up every time). It gives a project its own identity and allows others to share in the knowledge.

By sticking to these principles, you can achieve a more collaborative – and ultimately more productive – office culture.

Author: Linda Trim is the sales and marketing director for Giant Leap.

Linda graduated with a BA Hons Psychology from Unisa in 2000. After graduating she moved to join her family in America. Upon her return to South Africa in 2001 she joined DAV as a recruitment consultant in the IT sector. In 2004 Linda joined Giant Leap as a Business Development consultant and was promoted to Business Development Manager in 2005. In 2006 Linda became a director of Giant Leap.

Linda was nominated in 2010 for the prestigious Women’s Property Network Five Star Woman Award. The WPN Five Star Woman Award recognises exceptional women within the commercial property industry of South Africa.