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3 ways to use the work environment to aid collaboration

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3 ways to use the work environment to aid collaboration

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Most social business efforts flop.  Sadly, that’s a fact, with Gartner estimating the number is as high as 80%.  A big reason for this is that organisations are failing to create the right environment for collaboration.  Some advocate that it needs the CEO to lead by example and to jump headlong into social themselves.  If you think about it though, how often does your CEO visit you?  I suspect it’s pretty rare, so expecting them to influence your own behaviour by their own behaviour is pretty unlikely.

Your work environment on the other hand is something you’re immersed in every day, and as such it’s been a topic that has been explored in some depth by managers around the world.  Yahoo! famously called in all of their home workers earlier this year because they wanted to encourage collaboration amongst employees by having them in the same building.

Whilst much of this workplace design, especially in web firms, has revolved around fussball tables and bean bags, there are some slightly more interesting approaches that researchers believe will encourage collaboration.  Here are three of them.

  1. Use round tables – Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that round tables encourage collaboration.  They found that sitting at a round table gave employees a heightened sense of togetherness.
  2. Dim the lights – A German study looked at how light affects our ability to innovate.  They found that a normally lit office is actually too bright for creative thoughts, and that murkier environs do better.  They discovered that bright lights are great for analysing ideas, but idea generation is best done in darker rooms.
  3. Too much or too little noise – There have been numerous studies showing how the din of open plan offices actually harms our ability to innovate and collaborate rather than promotes it.  Can the same apply to too little noise though?  Researchers at the University of Illinois believe so, and found that the ideal noise level for innovation was 70 decibels, which is similar to a television being on or the noise from your local coffee shop.

So three relatively simple things there that could be changed in your work environment to encourage collaboration.  The interesting thread that ties them all together is that none of them are perfect.  This makes perfect sense when you look back at some of the best, most innovative teams.  From the Manhatten Project to the original skunk works team at Lockhead Martin, they generally worked in poor conditions.  The archetypal image of innovation in Silicon Valley is not a clean laboratory but a garage.

So if you want a collaborative and innovative workforce, try and make your workplaces a little less ‘perfect’.

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