If you want collaboration, use round desks
Collaboration is kinda the cool fad at the moment. Organisations around the world are bending over backwards in an attempt to encourage employees to work more effectively together. The enterprise software market is now worth billions of dollars, with increasing collaboration a major part of the rationale behind such investments. Companies also try and foster collaboration via the design of their offices. Indeed, the reason behind Marissa Meyer ordering home workers into the office at Yahoo! was to encourage the serendipitous conversations she believed are key to innovation.
It’s on this topic of office design that two researchers from the University of British Columbia have produced a paper. They’re looking in particular at how the shape of table in our workspaces impacts upon our ability to work together.
The researchers asked 350 participants to sit in one of seven chairs and evaluate advertisements and other things. Interestingly, those that were sat in a circle responded most favourably to the ads that portrayed a sense of belonging. Those sat in a rectangular formation however preferred the ads showing more individualistic traits.
“We find that environmental cues can activate fundamental human needs—the need to belong and the need to be unique,” the authors write. “The shape of a seating arrangement has a predictive impact on persuasion.”
Suffice to say, the researchers weren’t testing for collaboration per se, but it goes without saying that when employees have a sense of belonging and togetherness they are more likely to share knowledge and information than keep it to themselves.
On the topic of designing office furniture with the aim of encouraging collaboration, check out the following video. It’s from the London based designers Industrial Facility. They attempt to design offices that mirror our local neighbourhoods. It consists of a series of large, round desks that connect to a physical, static base. It’s a pretty novel way of designing an office that may be coming to a workplace near you sometime soon.