The activity of collaboration has become so essential and omnipresent that we are often reaching for what it really means specifically in any given project. It seems that the term collaboration itself has lost some of its meaning from shear frequency of use. I wanted to capture a couple of ideas from our research that seemed especially poignant when the design of the workplace has collaboration as a primary goal.
We often create predominantly open environments with organizations that want to increase collaboration in their culture and work process. Open, in this case, means personal assigned space is open and accessible to increase communication and tacit learning. The need to balance employee preferences for enclosed individual spaces (offices) with work patterns that improve team performance always rises to the top of the “issues” list. I like what Frank Becker has to say about reconciling these competing needs (personal and organizational)on page 29 of his book Offices at Work.
The reality is that small-scale, team oriented open plan clusters designed as an activity-based workplace strategy have a myriad of benefits. More expensive, less flexible enclosed offices/spaces undermine interaction and render tacit learning nearly impossible. Yet the vast majority of people, in just about any job and at any level prefer having their own fully enclosed office. Finding the right balance between satisfying employee preferences and work patterns that benefit the team and organization (not just the individual) is truly a wicked problem; it has no easy answers.