Balancing Workplace Flexibility While Encouraging Collaboration

Silvia Damiano
4 min read

Your work environment may vary greatly from someone else’s depending on what you do for a living. If you’re an astronaut on the International Space Station, every single inch of space has a purpose. If you’re a park ranger in Africa, you may have thousands of square meters of room. Most of us do not work in either extreme, rather, we spend most of our time in an office, a classroom, a boardroom or some other indoor area. The big question is, how can we maintain flexibility but still promote collaboration in our workspaces?

Watch Out For The Fads

When we think of a cutting-edge workplace, we may think of brightly-coloured, funky furniture arranged in semicircles with a state-of-the-art coffee service nearby. While these kinds of workspaces may look fantastic, we have to figure out if these spaces meet the needs of the people working in that office. Just because it’s ‘cool’ doesn’t mean it is functional.

If your staff is working in an open office but wearing noise-cancelling headsets almost all the time, is the space really working for you? Where is the collaboration if people cannot hear conversations going on around them?

Everyone certainly needs time to work alone without distractions, but having people essential build little shells around their workspaces will only stifle potential conversations, brainstorming and problem-solving.

Creating Spaces For Different Tasks

If we don’t want people to hole up at their desks constantly, what can we do to ensure they have the right working conditions? First, think about factors which pertain directly to what your employees will be doing, including:

  • Talking to clients. This can get noisy, especially when you have many conversations going on at once. Depending on what your organisation does, this area may even be rowdy at times (think stock markets). Forcing everyone to work in such an environment will inevitably lead to frustrations, a loss of productivity and reduced collaboration.
  • Working together. Having spaces where people can spread out and present ideas is also important. You might need large tables for blueprints or plans, or maybe you need round tables for discussions. Think about what will be suited to your needs and those of your employees.
  • Working alone. Sometimes people need a break, and they may need to focus on a certain task or activity without the typical background murmur. While we don’t necessarily want people tucked away ALL the time, the reality is we do need a quiet space to sit to work individually.
  • Outside access. Research has shown the benefits of spending time in green spaces. Consider whether or not employees can sit on a balcony full of plants or at a nearby park to work together or independently. Sometimes even a quick walk around the block can clear the mind and inspire us.
  • Ask your employees what they want or desire in an office space. Employee input is important, or you might pay a fortune for gimmicky furniture no one really uses. Asking people if they’d like to stand at their desk sometimes, or sit in a certain chair, or collaborate in a particular environment is one way to help ensure success. We may think we know what people want, but unless we give them a voice, we are really just taking a guess. Give people an opportunity to try things out before you commit, if you can. It goes back to the idea that we may think something is fabulous and cool, but when we try it we’re a little more lukewarm.

Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success. 

Henry Ford 

When Workspaces Become Neighbourhoods1

Think of your entire office as a little town or village, and think of the different work areas as neighbourhoods. Each neighbourhood has a different purpose. One area might be for eating and taking breaks. Include comfortable seating areas and provide the basics so people can prepare healthier meals. 

Another neighbourhood might be set up for louder workers. Salespersons, people who need to walk around while on a headset or anyone who might engage in a lively conversation with clients or peers. 

A third neighbourhood might be composed of little nooks and crannies for people to essentially hide and work quietly. Some of your employees may enjoy having a desk space they can personalise, while others may be just as content floating around, so be flexible as you plan these areas.

A fourth area might offer a particular venue for collaboration, including projectors and equipment for meetings. You can also set up a neighbourhood which caters to particular clients. Really, the options are endless, but always consider what these spaces are intended to provide and be sure they are what people are asking for.

Another important place to remember is the spaces between your neighbourhoods. As people move around the office, you want there to be plenty of opportunities for ad-hoc conversations to spring up, or for people to clarify things or ask questions. Small seating areas and tables scattered about, bar stools along the wall, or even drink stations (water, tea, coffee, etc) can invite collaboration.

Transforming Workplaces To Be Flexible But Still Collaborative

As leaders, we hopefully have a say in how our workspaces are designed and arranged. The old ideals of the past and people sitting in one place for eight or nine hours a day are gone. Modern workers expect flexibility. They expect to work in different kinds of spaces and even to hold varying or flexible hours. If you have people working from home, helping them set up a proper workspace is just as important as the physical office.

This is an opportunity for leaders to not only talk the talk but walk the walk. By setting up a workspace which caters to the specific needs of your organisation and those who work there, you’ll be creating an environment which encourages collaboration, communication and innovation. Even though we may not have a space station or the grasses of a savanna as a workplace, we all deserve a place where our brains have the best opportunities to create and develop the future.

Are you ready to learn more about how to create a brain-friendly workplace? Are you ready to bring your body and mind into the Imagination Age?

The i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology can help you learn more about yourself and how you can be a better, kinder, more effective leader.

1. Sweeney J, Brown L. 18 Lessons from the Workplace of the Future. LogMeIn, Inc. 2019. Webinar.

Originally posted on: 12 November 2019
Last updated on: 25 May 2024

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Silvia Damiano

Silvia Damiano

Founder & CEO
About my Brain Institute

Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist, filmmaker and creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology.

Silvia's scientific background and curiosity about the human brain led her to a decade long journey of research into optimal brain functioning and the application of neuroscience in leadership and daily life. Her past and current roles have uniquely prepared her for the current undertaking, that of leadership activist & change agent.

Silvia Damiano founded The About my Brain Institute in 2009, with the purpose of democratising leadership & neuroscience. She has a passionately held belief, that leaders in our 21st century global economy and their organisations must radically change long-held ideas of what constitutes effective leadership

In her ground-breaking books ‘Leadership is Upside Down’, ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’ and the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’, Silvia provides both compelling evidence and explores the importance of leadership in our personal and professional lives and what it takes to develop the human behind the leader.

Silvia has worked in different countries, across many industries, helping teams and organisations improve business performance. Silvia’s clients have described her as a passionate, dynamic, a highly experienced speaker and master facilitator on the topics of Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Change, Neuroleadership & Engagement.

Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.

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