Collaborative: Meet the new design term

Collaborative: Meet the new design term

Collaborative: Meet the new design term

For many years, cubicles, segregated work spaces, unwelcoming lunchrooms, and formal conference rooms defined office designs.  To create offices that encourage collaboration, experienced office interior designers go beyond the main work areas. That is because one of the most important elements is to provide dedicated social spaces so that people with completely different expertise can interact with fellow workers away from their desks. This type of space design allows people who work in a different room, at the other end of the office, or on a different floor to communicate.

A collaborative office space includes workstations and private offices for focused work, and integrates areas for small teams to freely share knowledge and ideas; in other words, a place for people to work together toward a common goal.

Key features

The key features that make for a collaborative office space:

– An open plan and other design features (e.g., high-traffic staircases) that encourage accidental interactions.

– Utilize common areas that are accommodating for people to read and work, which will encourage workers to leave confined offices.

– Maximized the number of areas that hold two or more people, rather than single-occupancy offices.

– Dedicated areas in open-plan spaces which support workers to do their thinking in the presence of other people, rather than alone.

Types of Areas

Collaborative areas for brainstorming with the intention of exploring new ideas can range from designated group spaces with either meeting tables or chairs to soft seating for a more relaxed and informal gathering.  Often technology and furnishings that provide as much flexibility as possible in how employees use the space will be specified.  A large flat screen monitor is a common tool for a work session. Wall mounted whiteboards or glass-boards and tackable surfaces are great to share, display, and save ideas and information during brainstorming sessions.

The lunch room, or cafeteria, is another area to focus on as a collaborative space. By specifying the right style of furniture, areas that previously had limited use can be transformed into an inviting meeting place that encourages staff to gather throughout the day.

Collaborative spaces can also be lounge areas with furnishing that offer a place for staff to take short breaks to relax and rejuvenate. Although not as popular, air-hockey or foosball tables also encourage gathering, which in turn can generate interactions among staff.


Collaboration has been proven to benefit the entire company.  Multiple studies show that the environment of a workplace can be influenced by the emotional culture of the company and can affect multiple sectors: employee satisfaction, staff burnout, creativity, and the level of quality that employees go about their tasks.  Financial performance and absenteeism can also be influenced by the emotional culture.

The upswing is that in a report published by MIT, their researchers found they were able to predict thirty-five percent of a team’s performance based on how well and frequently there was interaction between other team members.  The more staff connected, the greater the positive results.

Results of Collaboration Design

A couple of examples are Steve Jobs famously redesigning the offices at Pixar, which originally housed computer scientists in one building, animators in a second building, and executives and editors in a third. Jobs recognized that separating these groups, each with its own culture and approach to problem-solving, discouraged them from sharing ideas and solutions.

In contrast to Pixar’s culture prior the changes made by Jobs, on Google’s New York campus no part of the office is more than 150 feet from food – there is either a restaurant, a large cafeteria, or a micro-kitchen.  The reasoning is when employees are encouraged to snack; they bump into coworkers from different teams within the company. Even if Google workers aren’t constantly generating new ideas, plenty of evidence suggests that they enjoy their work, and that this enjoyment feeds into motivation and eventually greater productivity.

Another strategy is that when most companies consider their brands, they rarely venture beyond the design and implementation of a logo.  Experts have found that a good brand does more than establish a visual language; it creates an immersive experience for every person who enters their workplace. Therefore, the branding of a workplace has a real impact on influencing the culture within the company. It is important to ensure that staff knows collaboration and teamwork is desired – creating the right office environment helps support that desire.