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enterprise inconvenient truth how to plan for better workplace collaboration

An inconvenient truth: How to plan for better workplace collaboration

It may sound counter-intuitive, but designing an “inconvenient” workspace can encourage productive collaboration.

No less than Steve Jobs1 understood this when he took a break from creating the iPhone and iPad to plan a set of centrally-located restrooms at the Pixar corporate campus in Emeryville, California, rather than a series of private, more convenient restrooms.

Even Zappos,2 famous for their customer service, has taken steps to foster workplace collaboration through inconvenience — deliberately closing off a skyway and entrances from a parking garage to force its employees to walk through a central plaza. The goal, according to Zappos Project Manager Zach Ware, is to “create a collision point where people are more likely to connect to each other, rather than having them be isolated and never see each other.”

But encouraging productive workplace collaboration in today’s fast-paced world of work takes more than unplanned encounters in a common work area. Successful organizations must look at workstyle innovations that empower their changing, more diverse workforce to use information better, and to more easily connect and share information with one another. 

Design for today’s changing workforce

Workstyle innovations must account for – and can draw inspiration from – the distinct ways generations of workers use and share information. For instance, in a scenario we can all relate to — a problem with your bank account — its easy to see how two different generations prefer to handle the issue. Baby boomers and experienced veterans prefer face-to-face contact, while millennials and those just entering the workforce largely prefer to handle it entirely online. Those are two very different preferences, and your business must consider these and others to give all of your employees the best chance to succeed and be productive.

Start by encouraging different generations and roles within your organization to work on initiatives together. One great way to manage change is by setting up mentoring programs for those who would benefit from a higher comfort level with new tools. And don’t forget this mentoring can also serve to pass on institutional knowledge — avoiding the learning cliff of lost knowledge resulting from the retirement of your seasoned workers without them having passed that information on. 

Workplace collaboration across generations

With the changing nature of today’s workforce, managers must consider creative uses of new technology to foster productivity and encourage growth. Top performing businesses are those which align a strong technical infrastructure and agile information systems to support mobile devices, the use of social media and the exploding number of cloud-based applications. And, importantly, these businesses provide all workers the necessary training they need to take full advantage of these tools.
In a global Forbes survey3 of business executives, 82 percent say cloud-based collaboration tools accelerate business results. Effectively incorporating technologies like mobile devices and cloud-based applications will help attract and retain the most talented workers — a top of mind strategic concern for all successful business executives.

Just as designed inconvenience sounds counter-intuitive, the differences between generations in your workforce can actually foster workplace collaboration and enhance productivity. But to do so, you need a plan. The key is to address this now, to better connect them with new ways of working, and to recognize and support workstyle innovation. 

Plan for workplace collaboration 

Understanding the best way to foster communication is key. 
1 Eadicicco, Lisa. "Why Office Layout was so Important to Steve Jobs." October 2014. 
2 Nisen, Max. "Zappos is Building an Intentionally Convenient Office in Downtown Las Vegas." 15 May 2013. 
3 "Collaborating in the Cloud: Leaders in Today's Collaborative Revolution Report Significant Benefits From a Cloud-Based Approach." May 2013.