Meeting is not the same as collaborating. Picture a typical one-hour, scheduled team gathering. Usually one person is doing most of the talking; a few others might engage here and there. But people get distracted by email, instant messages, or even other work, and many in the room never contribute. While there’s a place for these more passive forms of group work, organizations today are increasingly seeking the most elusive form of collaboration—generative collaboration that leads to the creation of new and better ideas.
Consider the findings of our 2019 Steelcase Active Collaboration Study: Most organizations (70%) are still asking employees to sit in traditional conference rooms for what are supposed to be collaborative sessions. For the majority (75%), meeting spaces are enclosed and meetings are scheduled (81%), cramping creativity instead of inspiring innovation. Most people (72%) want the freedom to move around during meetings but only 53% can. There’s a reason for that desire to move—it’s the body that activates the brain.
The workplace can help. Gathering spaces that encourage perching and other more active postures are far more effective for collaboration. Instead of that traditional conference room, picture members of a team half-sitting on stools, balancing on a bench, or leaning against a couch. The space can actually act as a cue for certain behaviors. It can prompt people to be more engaged and promote equal participation. “Perching allows you to come together cognitively and emotionally but not be overly tethered to your position physically or your position on any idea,” explains Frank Graziano, a Steelcase WorkSpace Futures researcher.
The thing is, creativity doesn’t follow a schedule. Great ideas occur when you’re moving freely and have access to the right people, information, and technology. You don’t mark your calendar for Eureka! moments.
Obstacles to Collaboration Are Too Common
Collaboration and creativity go hand in hand as people actively engage in their work and with each other. The best results come when space and technology are seamlessly designed for people to work shoulder to shoulder, move freely, and participate equally.
Our study shows collaborative teams face some serious obstacles in their current workspaces. For instance, 73% of respondents say they don’t have access to the right people to collaborate. Almost as many (70%) can’t access the information they need in real time, which slows down the creative process. And 68% struggle to keep focused due to visual distractions, interruptions, and noise. Access to the right technology is a problem too. Sixty-six percent say they lack technology to display work, which hampers creativity.
These barriers are holding back teams that in the right surroundings, and with the right access to information and technology, might just bring us “the next big thing.” These constraints hamper active collaboration, which encourages people to get more physically and emotionally invested in the creative process.
Take Steps Toward Active Collaboration
Any organization looking to encourage creativity through active collaboration should review its workspaces to figure out where the opportunities are. Here are some things to consider:
1. Encourage movement
Use lightweight furniture that can easily be moved and adjusted to suit the needs of the team, preferably in lounge settings that encourage equal participation and idea sharing. The environment should allow for a range of postures to promote interaction. Make sure there’s plenty of room for people to circulate and consider if there is the right amount of proximity between team members and their content.
2. Promote equal participation
Large-scale collaboration devices (analog and digital) make it easier for people to interact and contribute ideas. Use devices with large displays for everyone to view text and images together, contribute ideas, and suggest changes. For instance, writable surfaces around which teams can gather can be instrumental to moving the creative process forward. Integrate technologies that help speed the visualization process and offer interactive ways to evaluate ideas together.
3. Create a welcoming space
Make the collaborative space visually attractive with objects and art elements that team members can connect to and feel inspired by. The space should be designed to encourage people to visually explore multiple solutions through experimentation and interaction with each other and with integrated technology.
The next great idea is waiting to be born. It just needs to find the right space and conditions to show itself.
JENNIFER MCCREADY is manager of global channel development for Steelcase, a provider of architecture, furniture, and technology products and services designed to help people reach their full potential.