Roomzilla user CIC turned part of its kitchen into a cafe, complete with small tables and lots of power outlets.
In the creative economy, workers need a blend of focussed quiet time and interactive collaboration. When it comes to being focussed, most of us have it covered; hide in an office, put on headphones, and mute the cell phone. In many offices, if workers need to collaborate and interact face to face, they head to a conference room. While meeting in a conference room works, it’s often unnecessary. Many interactions don’t require reserving a meeting room. In fact, many interactions can happen in far more casual settings. Below I’ve outlined some ideas for how you can help free your employees to collaborate and interact more.
Close to Food = Casual Collision
Google designed its spaces in one NYC office so that workers are no further than 150 feet from food and drink. While that might seem like overkill, it has an interesting effect; lots of running into co-workers. When food spaces have to accommodate everyone, workers are likely to get in and out as fast as possible due to crowding. But when they can linger, they can interact with their coworkers. We don’t necessarily have to be talking about full on kitchens. Simple things like vending machines and coffee machines can help foster interaction
Turn The Kitchen Into a Cafe
Ever notice how readily people interact in cafes? Yes, sure, there are plenty of folks with massive headphones, staring at screens. Cafe’s are my 2nd office when I travel. But I also go to cafes to collaborate and plan with people. The design of a cafe could be a great model for your kitchen. If there’s just one or two large tables, people could feel awkward about sitting close to other groups while having conversations. Setting up smaller tables, preferably with wheels so that they can easily be moved, with a fair amount of space between them, will give people just enough space to encourage conversations for two to four people. Likewise, make sure there’s enough power outlets and extension cords so that workers can sit wherever they want.
Just because you have desks doesn’t mean that workers need to sit at the same ones every day. Take a page from Cisco’s playbook. Cisco kept its cubicles, but let workers sit wherever they wanted whenever they wanted Source). Allowing workers to float can empower them to sit together when they need to work on a project together. That, in turn, will free up the conference rooms that they might otherwise camp in all day
Drop the Landlines
VOIP phone systems like Grasshopper can work just like traditional landlines, but can route calls to worker’s cell phones or even to their computers. That allows the workers to be reached whenever someone calls them, even if they’re not at their desk.
More Power Outlets!
As workers cluster together, they’re going to need power outlets for all of their devices. The standard 2 or 4 outlets might not be enough. For a short term fix, power strips might get the job done. If you move into new space or renovate, consider increasing the number of power outlets.
Put whiteboards all over your office and then place comfortable seating near the boards. This doesn’t have to just be in a meeting room. If just a few people need to talk casually, there’s no reason they can’t sit in front of a board on some beanbags and hash out their ideas.
Turn Hallways into Whiteboard-ways
On the note of whiteboards, consider this: how many people do you really have walking down a hallway at any moment? Could two people stand in front of a wall that’s been painted in ideapaint and still have enough room for someone to walk by? If so, your hallways can become collaboration areas.
Furniture on Wheels
Chairs, desks, and whiteboards on wheels allow workers to assemble their spaces in whatever configuration they need. Having wheels on the furniture makes such configuration infinitely easier. For tabletops, your best bet is to choose pieces that readily accommodate small groups of two to four that can be moved next to each other for when you need a large group to meet.
Often times your workers don’t need a full office, but they do need some sense of privacy to be able to talk honestly. Consider creating a private alcove by placing high-backed sofas like Vitra’s alcove sofas. They’re designed to muffle sound, and the high backs also block the line of site, creating a sense of privacy and seclusion.
What have you done to help your workers interact more and make your office more interaction-friendly? Have you seen something that you liked in someone else’s office? Share your comments below!