When we picture the future of the office workplace, we have a tendency to think about how far technology can reach and wonder if we’ll sit in front of a holographic screen and be able to create documents with the wave of our hand or even a thought. But what we miss is the human aspect and what we forget is how important collaboration is to a business.
Understanding the Value of Collaboration
Collaboration is at the centre of successful design thinking. It is an important way of sparking new ideas, to inspire, to work through and solve problems, and to keep up with the increasing pace of work. It cannot be an isolated event as it is part of a larger process that requires numerous meetings and interactions.
Many businesses see the need to add ping-pong tables and comfy couches to the office as a means of creating "innovation spaces". However, adding more stuff may not always yield better results. There is a difference between accessorising and building spaces to enhance natural, informal collaboration in the workplace that gives rise to new business ideas.
But what is natural collaboration?
Natural collaboration allows both discussion and visualisation to happen anywhere and at any point in the day. Humans have a natural drive to communicate with others to solve problems and come up with new ideas. In fact, a poll in 2012 found that 88% of participants preferred going to the office to work compared to working at home, even when they had access to the same technology, a clear indication that it was the people they were going to work for, not the technology.
"When we want to be inclusive, our desks or project rooms are where we meet. Private spaces, separated from the general flow, are reserved for isolated focus."
One area in which collaboration was previously put to a halt was in business meetings. Many of these meetings consisted more of one person presenting information to others with little space being given to discussion and collaboration over their ideas. However, now many offices are paving the way for meetings to truly be a gathering of people who are able to freely share their opinions and ideas with others. Employees spend approximately four hours per week in informal meetings; 70% of these meetings occur at their desk, while the remaining happens in open spaces.
It's true that when we want to be inclusive, our desks or project rooms are where we meet. Private spaces, separated from the general flow, are reserved for isolated focus.
So the question is, how can we make meetings and collaboration more efficient and effective? The answer is through the use of collaboration-friendly tools in the work environment.
Designing with Collaboration in Mind
The Exclave line, introduced by Herman Miller and designed by Continuum, was designed to tackle just this. The system, which is modular and flexible, was created to promote informal meetings in the workplace.
The design takes account of those employees who may be working at home. Audio conference calls account for 87% of meetings and video calls make up 75%. Therefore, the attention of the project was not on developing a room for collaboration but it also took into account remote workers, thus offering all employees on a team the chance to work and collaborate together.
Office Furniture for Collaboration
The design of the Exclave promotes inclusion as a triangular table allows those seated around it to be able to better see everyone, especially when compared to rectangular tables. It also helps participants keep focused on any remote participants that can be seen on the TV/screen in the room.
The design included a second monitor where data or information is displayed. This display is located on top of the screen showing the remote worker. The idea is that viewers on-site can discreetly shift their eyes up and down, rather than side-to-side (eye shifting side-to-side may be perceived as devious or negative).
Finally, the design also includes a number of analogue boards such as whiteboards and tack boards which sit on mobile carts. The combination of digital and analogue boards is so that participants can see multiple information sources at the same time, allowing for true innovation to happen.
The great thing about Exclave's design is that it doesn't come from high-tech, an expensive technology but rather low-tech items which can be adapted to fit any work environment. Not only this, but it can also work alongside any evolving technology.
"The system utilizes already existing elements and unites them in a way that can be adapted to find any environment."
The Future of the Office
The brightest future of the office exists in a space where humans are able to use technology to bring more people together than ever before for greater collaboration. It's a place where people can work seamlessly and move freely, rather than a place where futuristic technology forces itself into the workplace and begins to dominate exchanges. We can start by changing the way we think about our office furniture and making it work for us, to bring us together rather than leaving every man to fend for himself.