Innovation has long been hailed as the life-blood of business. We have Charles Darwin to thank for the slightly unnerving ‘innovate or die’ mantra often trotted out by entrepreneurs and business leaders. While innovation may be necessary to survival, actually making it happen can be hugely challenging. Collaborative workspaces are gaining popularity as one response to finding ways to drive innovation and efficiency within organisations.
The belief behind serendipity (def: a desirable discovery made by accident) in the workplace is that networks, rather than hierarchies, drive businesses and projects forward. Designing collaborative workspaces that force unplanned interaction between co-workers helps build and strengthen those networks, creating opportunities for serendipitous encounters. You’ve probably experienced a casual chat on the stairs that gave you a great idea, or an impromptu meeting over coffee that unblocked a project. Serendipitous workspaces are designed to make those meetings happen deliberately, rather than by chance.
Giants of collaboration
Perhaps the most famous example of a workspace designed to encourage collaboration and serendipitous encounters is Pixar’s offices in Emeryville, California, conceived by Steve Jobs. He decided that rather than creating separate spaces for each department, he would drive collaboration by design. People from all over the campus are drawn to the central atrium, which houses mailboxes, screening rooms, cafes and leisure facilities, where they mingle with people they might not ordinarily see. Even the shyest introvert has to leave the safety of their desk and make eye contact with others. Originally the only bathrooms in the building were on the ground floor, which meant everyone had to walk down the central staircase for a comfort break (although this was later changed, you have to admire the commitment!).
Google’s offices share a similarly collaborative ethos, which it refers to as ‘casual collisions’, and you are never more than 150ft from food, whether that’s a micro kitchen, coffee shop or restaurant, so there are plenty of places for planned and spontaneous meetings. Private phone rooms, sofas, booths, pods and meeting rooms provide a variety of places to work alone or collaborate with others.
Back in the real world…
Not all of us have the luxury of designing an office from the ground up with a billion dollar budget, but if you’re planning a refit it’s worth considering how you could encourage more serendipitous encounters and collaboration between teams. Whether it’s a coffee bar on the ground floor, a range of meeting pods or soft seating areas to encourage spontaneous sit-downs, encouraging strong networks should be on your list of objectives when thinking about your workspace design.
As to whether serendipity in the office works, a quick look at the share price of Google and the box office receipts of Pixar films tells us all we need to know.
See page 5 to read about the ‘Make It Happen’ spaces we designed for the BBC to push more projects over the finish line.
To discuss how to encourage serendipitous encounters in your workspaces, call us on 01952 210197 or email firstname.lastname@example.org