By Mark Coxon
Until very recently, collaboration was one of the most widely used buzzwords for maximizing organizational performance and productivity. Of course, collaboration is still happening in a COVID world through various online tools. But since this concept has become, and will most likely remain, such a fundamental aspect of the work environment going forward, effectively planning for collaboration spaces now will pay off later.
As organizations start to rethink their interior spaces, including collaboration areas, it’s well worth taking a look at why those areas may not have been fulfilling their potential. Some of those considerations are tangible, some are intangible.
With the cost of real estate and technology, every organization needs to ensure that square footage is being used as productively as possible. If collaboration spaces in your organization have fallen short, here are some considerations that may be standing in the way.
The first step is to be clear on the purpose for a collaborative session. Is the goal information sharing, brainstorming and strategy, tactical implementation, or spontaneous connection and interaction.
Then, there are some key aspects to consider:
These common and very valid issues should be addressed through an integrated team approach involving groups such as facilities, IT, and end users. Without “collaboration” at this level, your spaces will likely not produce the results your organization is looking for—or, worse, simply not be used at all.
What’s the Mindset?
A common and often overlooked barrier to collaboration is the state of mind that the participants bring into the session. Taking the time to invest in preparation can make all the difference in the world.
Establishing the right mood and expectations should take place before the meeting ever begins, with invitations that set the stage with collaboration as the stated purpose and goal. It will also make a huge difference if participants’ roles are clearly outlined and people are actively encouraged to bring their ideas for an open discussion.
Without taking care of this upfront dynamic, attendees are often quite hesitant to spontaneously co-present or interact on the fly. Whether or not the space has theoretically been “designed” for collaboration, a negative mindset coming in is the enemy of engagement.
Where’s the Trust?
One of the most important aspects of creating a collaborative work environment is establishing a sense of trust between participants. How many times has a team leader cheerfully solicited questions, thoughts, or feedback only to have the room go silent.
But, maddeningly, right after that (unproductive) session, people are gathered in the hall and sharing ideas, some of which are completely unrealistic, or complaining that the original discussion was unclear or unhelpful. Plus, there’s likely confusion as to any specific action items and responsibilities.
In other words, the meeting itself was basically a waste of time. And you can guess how the participants now feel about “collaboration.”
This syndrome is all too often based in an atmosphere lacking in openness and encouragement. It’s the old “there’s no such thing as a bad idea” concept. Empty lip service to this commitment with all the mind-blowing tech in the world won’t result in a productive and creative session if people can’t trust that their ideas and opinions will be heard with open minds.
No one wants to feel awkward and uninformed. Or that any apparent disagreement is frowned upon. Or that they will be blamed if their ideas don’t happen to pan out. Moreover, this spirit of trust applies to meeting facilitators and peers alike.
How’s the Tech?
We also often hear complaints about the gear side of these spaces. Flat panels that aren’t user friendly. Interconnectivity issues that waste time. Diverse and incompatible equipment. Glitchy videoconferencing. Inability to access cloud-based data.
Simply mounting the latest interactive touchscreen display on a wall in a conference room is most likely going to be a waste of already tight financial resources. In fact, the typical room setup with a long conference table in a narrow room can actually hinder access to the screen and become a barrier to group interaction and communication.
And we’ve all probably experienced an uncomfortable room arrangement where attendees must crane their necks awkwardly or adjust their seating position just to see around the person sitting next to them. And good luck if you’re the next presenter who has to navigate gracefully to the front of a small room.
How about attempting to operate complex tech through touch and/or a tablet, while staying on topic. Not a great way to conduct a lively, group exchange with some people several feet away and probably unable to read what’s on the screen.
One way to counteract this old-school approach is to create a less formal, living-room type of environment. The result will be easier visibility to the display from anywhere in the room as well as getting rid of bulky furniture like credenzas that present hazards like banged shins.
Is the Investment Worth It?
Collaboration is a catchphrase for a reason. It brings workforces together around common goals, builds esprit de corps, generates new ideas, and stimulates innovation. With the right environment, your investment can pay off handsomely.
You can lay out tens of thousands of dollars on whiz-bang technology that claims to boost productivity and build collaboration. But you’ll come up short if the organizational culture, the layout of the space, and the psychology of the participants are set up to fail.
The right blend of mindset, trust, and tech can help ensure that your organization realizes the promise of collaboration to strengthen teamwork, improve meeting efficiency, increase productivity, and drive innovation.
Coxon is the Director of Technology for Tangram Interiors. His expertise spans both the integration and manufacturing sides of the A/V industry, and he is a Certified Technology Specialist through AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association. Mark has nearly two decades of experience in AV sales and relationship building, as well as industry visibility as a blogger, podcaster, and social media influencer.
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