A better place to work.

Redesigning the office space can help companies in their digital transformation. Intelligent design of private and public areas can improve productivity and employee well-being. Here are some practical ideas to make your office smarter and more collaborative.

Office layouts with rows and rows of cubicles and executive meeting rooms with views over the car park are a legacy of the twentieth century.  Today’s smart offices attempt to make these spaces more productive by turning them into connected environments that encourage employee interaction. Collaboration, socializing, focus and learning are the four key work modes a smart office must support.

The first step

You’ve read about the fantastic impact of creative workspace design at Pixar and Google, and learned how both firms assessed their workplace needs and then designed their spaces around those needs. Inspired by their example the first thing you should do is analyze your own business needs and study how your employees are working today. Like Cisco, are your meeting rooms always booked out and desks empty as increasingly mobile staff work different? Before you begin your grand design, think about how your business works and speak to employees to find out what they need. “Simply wading in using a generic list of designer tips might produce positive change, but it’s just as likely to lead to disaster,” warns Psychology Today.

Be flexible

An extensive Knoll Research study found that smart office spaces need both the furnishings and the technology to be adaptable in order to meet the flexible and changing demands of different kinds of collaborative teams. Even seating can have an impact on collaboration. A Stanford University study found that leaning back postures are better for critiquing, while leaning forward boosts participation. The study recommends benches for collaborative spaces, but is that always appropriate? You may want teams kicked back in comfy chairs to think and discuss projects at certain times. The more flexibility that’s built into the original design, the more effectively your smart office will become.

We-space and Me-space

Collaboration isn’t just something that happens by email or during a meeting, there’s a social component too. This means it is important to create informal social spaces in which employees can interact on an informal basis. People should be free to build new workplace relationships and communicate with others in these informal spaces. Collaborative environments must offer a relevant mix of enclosed spaces for focused work, social spaces, meeting areas, thinking and learning zones and more. Employees must be enabled to autonomously shift between these zones. Google understands the need for comfortable private areas in which employees can focus on the details and get their work done (it has one such space designed as a New York apartment). “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible,” Picasso said. This remains true even in a smart office. What’s important is that the overall flow is collaborative and social. “To enhance both collaboration and concentration, we are seeking to invent a workplace that provides a spectrum of individual choices of primary workspaces, supported by places to collaborate, socialize and learn,” writes Gensler in a report on collaborative office spaces.

Chance encounters…through design

How do employees move through your building? Do they follow set routes?  Can these be changed to encourage more collaboration without making movement needlessly complex? Many smart offices combine open plan arrangements with features that encourage movement through the space, fostering accidental interactions. Google uses stairwells and food counters to encourage such flow, while Apple creates extremely spacious zones with huge amounts of natural light. The aim is to promote formal and informal connection and foster high productivity by maximizing the opportunity for accidental contacts to break down silos and hierarchies and optimize productivity.

Flatten hierarchies

Equal exchange between peers and a diversity of viewpoints will drive deeper understanding, foster richer perspectives and better outcomes. Steve Jobs famously redesigned the Pixar offices so technologists, animators, executives and editors would naturally mix and interact, prompting employees to call it the “most creative environment” they had ever been. This also required empowering staff at any level to speak freely with seniors. IBM pioneered the Open Door program, which  encouraged an open dialogue between staff and bosses, in the 1950s.

Good technology

A wise CIO knows that millennial workforces are digital natives who already use the best technologies at home and will demand to use the same at work. No matter how collaborative your space, a smart office isn’t so smart if employees hate the tools they need to use, and those you do provide must be as flexible as the space you built. Staff may want to beam presentations from their mobile devices to the display in the conference room, for example. You will not unlock the full benefits of a smart office if you rely on dated management, inflexible office design, or legacy technology, nor will you easily attract and retain high-caliber staff without improving the office space they work in.