6 Office Layout Ideas for a Collaborative Work Environment


In the quest for greater productivity, people have started to think outside the box—that is, the cube. Just as the office space calcified into an open plan that is endlessly partitioned into a maze of cubicles, the walls started to come down.

With companies championing team collaboration, the conventional wisdom lead to removing the barriers that blocked people from sharing ideas and brainstorming, in order to come up with greater efficiencies and boost productivity. It seemed obvious in retrospect. Create a bullpen and let the employees range free to foster their inherent creativity.

Collaborative Work Environment Studies

Thus, was born the open-plan office space and, in time, came the backlash. Forward thinking tech companies were all about disruption. That meant not just markets but the very worksite. But a strange thing happened on the way to a worker’s paradise, employees began to protest their lack of privacy.

Worse than discontent, organizations that embraced the open-plan workspace found that it wasn’t attracting top talent. A poll conducted by William Belk, a consultant whose specialty is helping companies keep their high-performing employees content, found that 58 percent of high-performance employees prefer a private space for problem solving, and 54 percent complain that their current office environment is too distracting.

Not only do these spaces annoy at times, they don’t always achieve the collaborative culture that was their reason for existence. According to a report by the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, there is “scant direct empirical research on how human interaction patterns change as a result of” open workspaces.

office layout ideas that help teams collaborate

Office Layout Ideas

So, now what, back to the drawing board? Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If collaboration is still the objective, manipulating the space in which people are collaborating remains a powerful factor in supercharging employees. There are many other office layout ideas that are worth pursuing. See if one of these helps motivate employees and facilitates their ability to collaborate.

1. The Newsroom

This is just another name for an open-space office plan, but despite the scientific evidence that there is no data to back it up as a collaborative incubator, the design has in fact been around long before tech companies dominated the discussion. Think of the classic newsroom, back when newspapers were the main source of current events, the clusters of desks, open spaces and flexible seating, where people shouted at one another with questions, comments and debate.

You can begin this experiment immediately by pushing desks together, collecting teams in bunches of desks, so they can work together without leaving their workstations. These groupings can be large or small, depending on the size of the team. If there are cubicle walls or other room dividers, remove them. You can always put them back up if the experiment isn’t fruitful. You’ll also want to create small, more casual spaces in the open areas you’ve created. Put more comfortable chairs, couches or even beanbags there for less formal gatherings.

Related: 5 Team Productivity Blockers and How to Overcome Them

Like the fabled newsrooms of yesterday, where there was always a kinetic energy that drove productivity and collaboration, you might find it stimulating to your workforce. Instead of people buried in their laptops, they’ll be face-to-face and developing ideas and solutions together.

2. Remote Office Space

On the opposite side of the spectrum is the remote office, or no office at all. More companies are working with distributed teams, which would seem to be the antithesis of collaboration. How can someone collaborate when their coworkers are in another state or even country?

There’s a reason that remote teams are so popular, and it’s not just because it reduces overhead costs. It’s a great way to recruit talent anywhere and employees are responsive to the flexibility inherent in such a work relationship. With the advance of project management tools that connect workers anywhere and at any time, not to mention people’s growing comfort with a digital environment, the future of collaboration looks very different than conventional wisdom might dictate.

There are many advantages to this type of collaborative environment. It’s open to all types of working styles and frees teams to focus on their work, avoiding the delicate and often problematic arena of office politics. This can lead to greater productivity. It attracts talent, fosters clear communications and opens employees to thinking of news ways to approach projects.

3. Standing Workspace

How about taking the setting of a remote workspace and bringing it to the office? By turning your office space into something more akin to a café or other type public space, you break down barriers and foster a natural collaborative environment. Think of the social setting of a bar without the liquor.

The office will be more casual with standing café tables and couches, including some laptop desks that are small enough to move around the office as needed. This type of layout is great if you’re open to flexible work habits and free thinking. What you’re doing, whether at a new or established company, is following the template of the startup, which thrives on being collaborative.

Keeping people standing more is good for collaboration, as it’s how most of us communicate. We’re not talk show guests who formally converse with someone behind a desk. But there’re other benefits, such as the health ones with working in an ergonomically sound environment. It makes people less fatigued, which not only stimulates collaboration but increases productivity.

4. The Library

If open spaces don’t necessarily foster collaboration, then maybe having a few of nooks and crannies in the office in which to hide and focus on work is the solution. This type of office layout idea embraces the cubicle, creating more sheltered areas and adding privacy screens to make spaces where people don’t feel as if everyone’s eyes are always one them.

Team brainstorming is necessary to generate ideas and even to work, but often and for many employees, there must be an equal and separate time and space for putting one’s head down for uninterrupted work. They need a place that is outside of the whirlwind of a more collaborative environment. They need quiet and an escape from the activity that is the usual maelstrom of an office space.

Related: 10 Ways to Eliminate Distractions at Work (And Get More Done)

Therefore, this space requires a Transformers-like ability to turn on a dime from open to closed. Think creatively before you make a big financial investment. For example, you can use the rolling white boards that are in conferences rooms to the main hub of your office space and then roll them in front of the cube like a do-not-disturb sign. You can even divide the day into open, collaborative times and closed, focused times.

5. Office Branding

Sometimes an office space is more conceptual than physical. That doesn’t mean there are no desks and chairs. There is always a space of some type in which work is done. But much of our work is done mentally, right? So, how can one enhance the internal component of collaboration through the external parts and pieces of an office space?

Branding the office space is a way to influence the work that occurs in that space. It creates an almost subliminal adherence to the brand and the culture of the company. It directs teams to collaborate and targets that collaboration to align with the goals, objectives and mission statement of the company.

This is more than putting up a logo. A good brand is one that transfers to all visual aspects of the company, including the office space in which its employees are working. This makes for an immersive experience that impacts everyone in the space. Ways to communicate the brand include color, company slogans and even inspiring quotes and images that promote teamwork, with reference materials to further inspire teams.

6. Light-Filled Office

Furniture can be bought or removed. Walls razed. Space can be opened up or closed to create many small and private workstations. But the one element that is often unaddressed is perhaps the most important: light.

Whether or not light helps grease the wheels of collaboration has yet to be determined, however, there is significant link between light and circadian rhythms, and light has been found to keep depression at bay, improving mood, energy, alertness and productivity. Add to that a study by the American Society of Interior Design that found 68 percent of employees complain about office lighting, this element must be addressed in any office layout idea.

By flooding the workspace with light, whether natural or synthetic, you’ll be helping employees be happy on the job, which goes a long way to getting them to work better together. If your office doesn’t have large windows or when the sun isn’t streaming into the space, you can add mirrors to reflect light or switch out florescent bulbs for a LED light system. It can also save money.

There are many office layout ideas, more than listed above. People are different and work well in more open or private environments. One thing they all share, though, is the need for the right tool to make their work easier and more productive. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that foster collaborative work through online Gantt charts where teams can talk at the task level. There’s much more, so take a free 30-day trial and see how it can help you collaborate more fully.

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