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Workplace Magnets

The Key to Collaboration in the Workplace
As organizations strive to produce work more efficiently, compete in a global marketplace, and attract top talent, management is suddenly taking a harder look at the workplace to determine how it can contribute to the new drivers of business success—teamwork, collaboration and co-creation.

Gone are the days of isolating professionals and their intellectual capital in private offices or workstations. Instead, today’s organizations have come to realize the value of organizing people in collaborative groups and teams where they can respond faster, access information more quickly, and arrive at solutions together.

As a result, the workplace has undergone a major shift from the concept of “my office,” where responsibilities and deadlines cause workers to walk around to seek each other out, to “our workplace,” where collaborative settings draw workers together in a far more natural manner.

Essential to establishing collaborative settings is the concept of magnetism—the idea of drawing people together while working to create an energetic, engaging workplace.

Creating a collaborative atmosphere doesn’t come by accident. It’s not the result of a fire-and-brimstone speech from the CEO at the all-employee meeting. It comes about by examining the workplace and understanding where “talk” happens, and where people naturally come together and exchange thoughts and ideas in an open, inviting space.

To this end, collaboration requires magnets, workspaces that draw people together, typically from different teams or departments for specific purposes. Moreover, magnet spaces within a collective atmosphere attract and adapt to a new generation/new style of workers who seek a workplace where everyone, regardless of their title, is connected with a greater sense of community.

A magnet can be a refreshment center, a lounge, a coffee bar, a team space, the front entry,or a community zone. There also are some less obvious forms of magnets. An area with unique technology can serve as a magnet. Even someone with special knowledge or information can magnetize people to a single place.

Magnets draw personnel together from across the organization and across teams in a manner unlike a scheduled meeting. Hence, the interaction that happens in these environments – at the coffee bar, the water cooler, or in a lounge—is quite powerful.

While some of this conversation is social and related to topics outside the arena of work, a majority of the interaction and casual conversation is about their work. Suddenly, workers have a place to engage one another in a non-threatening setting where “let’s get together to discuss our project” and “I had a thought about that project you are working on” typically are overheard.

At a global energy company, a research scientist acknowledged the best ideas typically come from the “science talk” that occurs in the coffee bar. Once it was outfitted, it quickly became a place where his colleagues could come to re-connect and exchange information and ideas. This example, and others like it, underscores the fact that creating magnet spaces where the “talk of the business” can occur is indeed a benefit to an organization.

Where should a magnet space be located?

It’s essential to locate a magnet space where people will naturally cross through the course of their day. This may be a spot in the “back of the house,” it could be a prominent corner in the office,or even a space up at the front of your workplace. Take some time and study where your workplace traffic flow crosses. Chances are the area with the most foot traffic will be the best place for a magnet space.

Besides selecting the right location, your magnet space needs to be a comfortable place to go, from the manner in which it is furnished to the activities that are sanctioned in that location. Your magnet space also needs to be a place where management and leaders go and are seen.

By making a magnet space comfortable, inviting, tool-rich, and communal, organizations can give their workers a place to relax, chat and, in a sense, reload their levels of productivity for the remainder of the day.

After all, the most effective and efficient work happens when people come together. A magnet space may be just what your workplace needs to foster this new level of collaboration.

About the Author(s)

Lauri Goodman Lampson  is a veteran workplace designer with Planning Design Research Corporation (www.pdrcorp.com), a workplace design firm that creates high-performance work environments for organizations of all sizes. For more information, visit: www.pdrcorp.com) or contact: lglampson@pdrcorp.com.