Thursday, April 19, 2012

Better Teamwork Through Better Workplace Design

Collaboration is the way we work now. In a 2008 BusinessWeek study of white-collar professionals, 82% reported they needed to partner with others throughout the day to get their work done. That means people don't just work together in meeting and conference rooms anymore. Collaboration now occurs all the time at personal desks and in hallways, or virtually via internet or smart phones, and it's often spontaneous and informal, rather than planned in advance.
Unfortunately our legacy work environments — dominated by offices or cubes — rarely match this new reality. To effectively do so, they need to adequately accommodate three types of work: "I work," which requires expertise, concentration and focus; "You & I work," which involves relatively simple collaboration among two people; and "We work," which embodies the highest level of content and context complexity, from multi-disciplinary expertise to multi-location and multi-technology platforms.
Yet most workplaces are still heavily anchored in "I work" designs. A report (PDF) from Gensler Architecture found that only half of the US workforce feels that their environment empowers them to innovate, while another white paper (PDF) from office design specialist Steelcase found that 70% of workers today waste up to 15 minutes just looking for a space to meet and 24% waste up to half an hour. Indeed, most workspaces provide little choice regarding where and how to work. Individual workstations separate people from one another, meeting spaces have to be reserved in advance, areas with audio privacy for video and teleconferencing are limited in number, and social spaces, if they exist, often lack power sources or WiFi. With mixed-presence team members, some co-located and other stationed globally and connected via technology, efficient collaboration is becoming a true challenge.
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