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The New Trend in Office Design: It’s all about Collaboration

It’s no surprise that office layout plays such an important role in establishing corporate culture. Employees spend such a large amount of their time there, that office layout plays an important role in the development of corporate culture whether you like it or not.

Office layout is typically one of those things that is hardly thought about. Usually, employees learn to live within their office’s constraints. Part of the reason why most take office layout for granted is because a redesign is so costly. While yes anytime you embark on a redesign is will cost money, it more than pays for itself with increased employee productivity, morale, and collaboration.

I’ve previously talked about the roll office layout plays in fostering collaboration. Today, it seems that it’s finally catching on. More and more companies are realizing that the way we work is changing. Traditional work methods are no longer sufficient. According to research compiled by famed architecture firm, Naramore, Bain, Brady and Johnson (NBBJ), “two-thirds of American office space is now configured in some sort of open arrangement.” In a recent New York Times article, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation chief administrative officer, Ms. Martha Choe believes that today we are seeing “a recognition that we work in different modes.” According to Choe, one of the lessons today’s executives must learn is to understand their business, and what your people need to do their best work.

The recent remodels of the Gates Foundation, Citrix Systems’ San Jose, California office or Seattle based, Russell Investments proves that organizations are listening to Choe’s message. Yes, new designs are fun, but what’s really interesting is that these changes are having results. For example, the recent remodel of the Gates Foundation has established different areas, catering how certain types of people work. One of the most interesting design features is that they have designed high traffic areas to flow into collaboration zones. According to Siri Oswald, a senior program officer at the Gates Foundation, this allows employees to “hear people talking about something and you realize it’s relevant to you…and then you just seamlessly integrate into it without having to schedule a meeting.” The focus of a lot of these newer layouts is based on the philosophy that chance encounters yield creative energy.

Not only do most of these new collaboration-centric office layouts help spur creativity and discussion, they also help foster a feeling of camaraderie. Ron Bundy, CEO of the Russel Index Group, believes that their new collaboration-focused layout really helps foster teamwork. “Because of all the buzz, people feel more like they’re part of the broad success of the organization.” Bundy also believes that by eliminating the offices as a status symbol, employees “have an opportunity to shine and have more of an impact…open[ing] up opportunities for people without formal titles.”

The recent move towards free form offices is an interesting trend. Do you work in one of these new collaboration-focused workplaces? If so, what do you like/dislike about them?

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