How to Design a Collaborative Office Space

Raise your hand if you like cubicles. What? No one?  No big surprise there. Cubicles are the death knell of both privacy and collaboration. They’re the unhappy medium between private offices and open, shared workspaces. So if you want to get on trend and take advantage of the many benefits of collaborative spaces, it’s time to ditch the cubicles, and take the following steps in the right direction.    

collaborative office

Break Down the Barriers

A collaborative office is fluid and open. Each worker having their own separate space does not fit into a collaborative office design, so your first step is to get rid of the cubicles, doors, and any type of obstacle that breaks up the flow of interaction and communication. This may seem a bit extreme, but this is how the big guys do it. Pixar, Google, and Zappos have open plans that encourage workers to constantly interact throughout the day.

This kind of layout is based on the notion that the best ideas come from people passing each other in the hallway, getting coffee together, or chatting on the staircase. The goal is to create “purpose-free generic ‘thinking’ areas in open-plan spaces, which encourage workers to do their thinking in the presence of other people, rather than alone.” Say goodbye to cubicles and private offices, and say hello to community tables in large rooms, an abundance of communal spaces such as cafeterias and libraries, and wide hallways where groups of people can walk and innovate simultaneously.

Promote Formal and Informal Interactions

Managers trying to create a collaborative working environment sometimes make the mistake of focusing only on team formation and formal team-building activities. While these can be excellent tools for developing a sense of community in the workplace, they’re only part of the big picture. In order to encourage true collaboration, workers must have rapport. They don’t have to be best friends who go bowling together on the weekends or stand up at each other’s weddings. However, there has to be a sense of camaraderie if workers are going to open up to each other, bounce ideas off one another, and ultimately light those creative sparks that become firestorms of inspiration.

Get Everybody on Board

There will likely be some resistance when you transform from a divisive workspace to an open one.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that workers are against the idea of a collaborative office. It simply means people are naturally resistant to change. Therefore, getting everyone on board will require two major strategies: 

  • Gradual implementation. The first strategy is to implement the changes gradually. A complete and instant renovation of the familiar is going to cause fear, anxiety, and probably some backlash. But if you implement the changes at a slow, even pace, your employees will have a chance to absorb them incrementally. As they see the benefits of the changes, they’re going to be more willing to accept additional changes because they now have proof that what you’re doing works.
  • Inclusion and empowerment. The second strategy is to include your employees in the change process.  Nobody likes to have new ideas shoved down their throats. And people certainly don’t like to be told they have no say in things that are going to directly affect their lives. So bring key employees in on the decision-making process. Allow them to help pick out the new community table. Ask them what types of food they want in the cafeteria. Get their input on what they think will help make the office more collaborative. When employees feel like they’ve participated in and can take partial ownership of the change process, they are much less likely to resist it.

Monitor and Evaluate

Don’t assume that because everything seems to be going smoothly there are no glitches in the system. Monitoring and evaluating the changes involved in the collaborative workplace strategies you’ve implemented is essential to long-term success. Make a point to solicit honest opinions from your employees regarding the new environment. Find out what they like, what they hate, and what they think could be done better. More importantly, act on the information you obtain. Simply making note of it but not doing anything about it will likely cause unnecessary resentment and discontent.

The days of separation and isolation in the office are fading fast. The modern work environment is one in which interaction among workers is becoming a cornerstone of creativity, productivity, and innovation. When you take the necessary steps to convert the energy in your office from stagnant to dynamic, you’ll want to keep that momentum going and never look back. 


The trusted source for DC's Employers

Sign up and post a job now

Post a job today

Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market