Why Collaborative Workspaces Are Not Always Ideal

TSP • @myTSPnet


When you think about a “modern” office, you're probably imagining a large open space where desks have no dividers and employees move about causally interacting with one another. This work environment is designed to set up collaboration and encourage more interaction between colleagues. The idea is that more frequent interaction can breed productivity and innovation. However, there's a major flaw with this theory — what's trendy and modern might not always be most efficient.

The idea that the presence of more employees and thus more dialogue and exchange of ideas increases an individual’s own output relies heavily on the premise that we're all extroverts. It is true that typical extroverts, which researchers broadly estimate make up 50 to 74 percent of the population, not only enjoy the presence of others but also perform more optimally in a group scenario. You can hone in on your particular personality inclinations by taking a quick personality quiz here.

However, what is true socially is not always true professionally. Even if extroverted colleagues prefer collaborative environments, potentially up to half of the workforce is being ignored. Open workspaces are therefore biased towards those extroverted type of personalities. While companies continue to gravitate towards such dynamic layouts, it is vital that they consider the needs of professional introverts as well.

Collaborative workspaces discourage individuals from brainstorming ideas that might not be viewed favorably by others. In this scenario, employees’ creative outputs can be dependent on which colleagues are present when the idea is presented. No one can effectively brainstorm if they fear judgement or scrutiny. There are serious logistic issues presented by collaborative workspaces including noise and privacy, both of which can invite distractions. Studies show that having silent time is vital to restore and revitalize your nervous system.

How many times do you find yourself unintentionally getting drawn in to listening to coworkers’ phone calls and lose track of what you’re working on? You don’t always want your coworkers to overhear important conversations with clients, and reciprocally, you don’t always want to hear coworkers’ conversations.

Collaborative workspaces can also encourage an intensely competitive situation. Often, employees will work through lunch or shy away from taking a break — both of which are vital to individual productivity — if they see their colleagues are busy at work. Not all employees work the same. While collaborative work environments might be ideal for some, they may be too stimulating for others. Continuous social interaction for all types of personalities can be detrimental to concentration skills.

The suggestion is not that only introverted individuals need private workspaces, but that all individuals — both introverts and extroverts — need the choice of workspace and access to them at various points throughout their work day. It is becoming increasingly important for employees to unplug since they're constantly connected on a multitude of platforms. When you turn off, or at least minimize, the quantity of inputs your mind is taking in, you can increase the quality and efficiency rate of the outputs you produce. Consider reading up on the benefits of technology-free time.

The best suggestion for office managers to create an optimal work environment is to integrate aspects of open common areas and private workspaces. Be sure to take advantage of inviting and quiet areas when you need to “zone in” and conduct your work free of distractions. This way you fully reap the benefits of the both the collaborative work environment as well as the quiet areas. The lesson is to remember to collaborate carefully and consider your cognitive needs the next time you walk into work.

So, when is the right time to collaborate? When considering big picture initiatives, it is vital to consider all angles stemming from all individual perspectives. Tackling problems efficiently sometimes means considering the best and worst outcomes. Individuals who are further away from a project on a day-to-day basis have a more unbiased and clear take on situations which allow them to adequately play devil's advocate.

When discussing new ideas, brainstorming allows individuals to play off of each others’ thoughts in a way that would be harder to achieve through individual efforts alone. There are countless benefits to collaboration. For employees who work from home or have a smaller in office team, collaboration is happening in the digital space. Check out this article on how to effectively collaborate online.

Physical layouts in the office must aim to enable the workforce with options and discretion over how they will work and in what environment. All personality types should have the options they need to capitalize on their skills. Balance is the key to a high functioning efficient office space that invites productivity, innovation, and creativity for both the individual employees and the collective team.