It’s not all about collaboration

Lee Day, Director at 360 Workplace shares his views on collaboration, workspace and balance.

Like most things in life, there isn’t a silver bullet that can solve every problem so why, when it comes to the contemporary workplace, does the answer to everything appear to be collaboration?

The idea that great things will happen when you put a few people together around furniture that isn’t a desk is just nonsense, but a trend that is being peddled by the commercial furniture industry and industry specialist. jumping on the ‘cult’ of collaboration bandwagon.

Undoubtedly using the skills and collective knowledge of a group greatly improves the chances of achieving a desired objective. It is also important to ensure that the right people are equipped with the right tools from the get-go.

During a recent client research exercise, we uncovered the dilemma of how to translate the output of collaboration into a meaningful and tangible outcome, whilst working in the ‘modern’ open plan office environment.

We observed a team of eight developers working collaboratively at their own desks but enabled by I.T. going through the interrogation loop for a specific problem. Through this observation, the benefits and shortfalls that are being repeatedly faced in today’s workplace were highlighted.

It was a perfect example of effective collaboration in practice; speed, precision and focus of application by all involved, so far so good. This however, was followed by the principle instigator of the session clearing his desk and leaving the office, stating he was “…off elsewhere to do the ‘important’ work”.

When questioned, the ‘important’ work turned out to be a specific task that required high levels of focussed cognitive work to achieve the necessary culmination of the collaborative exercise. The ‘elsewhere’ was to go home, to a place that he knew gave him privacy to work intensely for prolonged periods of time, confident in the knowledge that he wouldn’t be distracted or interrupted.

This isn’t an isolated example. Just think about your own office environment and then think about where you like to work and feel the most effective when needing to do focused, cognitive work. I’d take a guess that unless you have your own office, get into work early or stay late, it isn’t the place where you’re currently sitting!

I fear that we’ve created a generation of office spaces unsuitable for closing the ‘productivity’ loop by failing to support the crucial activity of the knowledge worker.

We’ve lost sight of the need to provide a balanced environment that isn’t weighted to making the building efficient or pandering to the manufactured needs of a generationally diverse workforce.

Isn’t it just common sense to recognise that periods of intense focus are part and parcel of everyone’s working life? After all, these are the periods that deliver the greatest sense of personal achievement and profitability to the organisation…. or is it that common sense isn’t that common, or do we perversely enjoy creating and working in ‘hostile’ environments?

Arguably the solution is a simple one which we instinctively know. It resonates throughout all parts of our lives - balance. The workplace environment simply needs to be created with a balance of work settings appropriate to the specific needs and tasks carried out daily by individuals, teams or departments.

Regardless of experience, gender or age, good people simply want to do good work and deserve the right tools and environment to allow them to flourish.


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