Collaboration.

Dream Team

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That buzz word is everywhere, and everywhere business owners are encouraged to structure an environment conducive to collaboration.  There’s no doubt that today’s work force is moving toward a more sharing environment, capitalizing on the synergy created when the work environment fosters spontaneous interaction among employees and technology encourages them to work (virtually) anywhere. There is no denying that amazing things happen when the work place supports and encourages employees to share without scheduling a meeting.  But it’s also true that over the course of this movement to sharing, not all has gone smooth.  If your company has been doing well in the current footprint, then why should you even consider a collaborative environment at all?  After all, if it isn’t broken, why would you fix it?  In our current climate of post-recession re-building, don’t you have better investments to make of your time and money?

May be.

But maybe not.

If you’ve survived the recession or are just launching your business, you need every possible area of your venture to produce income.  This is especially true of your employees and your facility.  Since a collaborative environment directly affects both, it’s worth a brief exploration to determine if the ROI on collaboration is worth it for your business.  Let’s first agree on terms:  collaboration, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is 1) to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something, and 2) to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.  How this affects your business depends on your business.  We’ve provided some basic guidelines to help you determine the degree of collaboration best for you:

How you do what you do:  Consider the types of duties you and your employees accomplish to serve your clients and make money.  How do you interact with your clients?  If you’re an accounting or law firm, you likely require spaces that support good acoustical privacy, and in some cases, visual privacy.  You may want only one or two spaces that support casual conversations.  Whereas a more open work environment may work perfectly in a marketing firm or other business where employees need (or should be) interacting to reach the company’s goals.  Establishing how you and your employees have to interact with your clients is the most important step.

Everybody Needs Some “Me” Time:  Even in the most creative firms, you and your staff need an area of quiet.  Are your employees in the field a lot, or do they spend all their work hours in your physical environment?  The longer an employee spends in the office, the more space and privacy they may likely require. Review not only the individuals tasks needed to deliver your company’s goods or services, but include any needs for smaller break-out rooms that won’t disrupt everyone in the area.   Getting an accurate idea of how much workspace and privacy each person really needs will further determine the amount of openness best for your office.

Employee Buy-In:  By now you have a pretty accurate snapshot of the level of openness and privacy your workplace can effectively handle – or not handle.  But remember, the secret to successful collaboration involves both your facility and your employees.   Open your new ideas (or decision to remain as is) up to your staff, and hear their feedback on how they feel they’ll work most effectively.  Maybe your team has been yearning for a more open environment.  Or you may discover that a handful of employees are less enthused about a change toward collaboration.  One of the repeated protests about collaborative environments is the noise level, and how earphones have become the new walls.  You won’t make everyone happy, but you may hear a consensus on how open the workplace should be.  And your staff may have suggestions that you hadn’t considered.  Either way, giving them the opportunity to have input on the space they inhabit to increase your bottom line can only build their commitment to your company and goals.

Like every other aspect of your business, the determining factor is the product or service you deliver to your client.   Changing your traditional office plan (offices and tall cubicles) environment to one that’s more open will be less disruptive and less of an adjustment if you’ve assessed the points above.  At the end of the day, you want to see the benefit in your bottom line, and one of the best ways to do this is to increase your staff’s productivity.  Know the limits of your company’s open-ness and you’ll know whether to collaborate or not.

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