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The Rise of Collaboration Spaces and the Next Generation Workplace

Posted by Kevin Gulley

Aug 18, 2016


Businesses are on an unstoppable march towards efficient, open floor plan office spaces.   The first iteration of this was the Open Space design. This movement began to accelerate rapidly during the economic downturn in 2008 and was supported by several simultaneous technology and business trends.  These included enhanced mobility and BYOD, the rapid increase in the number of remote and at home workers and the increasing ubiquity of unified communications and collaboration solutions, like web and video communication tools, to tie everything together.  From a business perspective maximizing the use of costly office space make good sense as it saves companies a lot of money.  For example:

  • Companies are leasing 33% less space per employee than they did just a decade ago
  • Businesses have increased space utilization from 50% to 80-95%
  • Organizations are now packing 7 workers in per 1000 sqft as opposed to 5 workers in just 2009

The Open Space design has evolved to purpose driven Free Address (unassigned) Space. While companies quickly realized that Open Office layouts created many more opportunities for employees to communicate and collaborate, they also led to more noise and distractions, both when they were trying to concentrate and while trying to collaborate in shared environments.   Having one big boardroom that everybody wanted/needed to use for meetings was not going to cut it, especially with private offices quickly disappearing.  A change of thinking in workspace design, layout and technology was necessary to keep employees productive and happy.  

Dig Deeper  Download the Whitepaper: Finding Agility, the Next Generation Workplace

A recent Harvard Business Review article highlighted the benefits and challenges of work environments and its impact on employee engagement and productivity:

In our study, 98% of the most highly engaged employees reported that they had “the ability to concentrate easily” in their workplace and that this attribute is a top factor in their satisfaction. They also scored high on “being able to work in teams without being disrupted” and “being able to choose where to work according to the task at hand”—other factors critical to high engagement and satisfaction. Conversely, highly disengaged and dissatisfied employees struggled with disruptions and felt they had very little control over where or how they worked. Only 15% said they could concentrate easily.

Clearly the answer is not as simple as leasing less space and throwing everyone into a big, noisy bullpen.

Next Generation Workspaces Provide Employees both the Flexibility to Easily Collaborate and the Privacy to Concentrate

To maximize the benefits of an open office environment, businesses have discovered that they need to provide employees with a multitude of flexible office space designs and layouts in which to accomplish two key goals:  1) collaborate with colleagues (in person or virtually) and 2) concentrate as a group or independently.  According to HBR:

There’s a natural rhythm to collaboration. People need to focus alone or in pairs to generate ideas or process information; then they come together as a group to build on those ideas or develop a shared point of view; and then they break apart again to take next steps. The more demanding the collaboration task is, the more individuals need punctuating moments of private time to think or recharge.

The first attempt and most visible answer to addressing this common workflow issue in open offices was the huddle room.  Huddle rooms, which first started gaining popularity as far back as 2008, are small conference rooms that can accommodate a handful of people for impromptu, collaborative meetings.  They may have started out as a converted office with a small table, a few chairs and a whiteboard, but that is quickly evolving.  A recent study by Wainhouse Research found that 55% of younger workers have been pushing conferencing managers for more video communication solutions in the workplace, while three quarters of all employees are demanding more mobile, flexible workplace locations and schedules.  As a result, Next Generation Workspaces are now equipped with video communication solutions that provide the ability to connect not only face-to-face, but with remote colleagues, customers and partners as well.  

So, while the huddle room may have been on the vanguard of this movement, many businesses quickly realized that one size definitely doesn’t fit all when it comes to the efficient use of office spaces, and as such they are moving to ensure the work environment is designed to maximize both collaboration and concentration.  A term that has been gaining traction to describe this effort is ‘Next Generation workplace. To learn more about how leading businesses are approaching this transition, I recently caught up with Vishal Brown, the VP of Professional Services at Yorktel to get his perspective.

Specialty Spaces Help Employees Maximize Productivity

According to Brown, the Next-Gen Workplace is an environment that enables an agile user experience by fostering productivity, efficiency and optimal growth potential — for both employees and the business. This requires an ecosystem with flexible policies that embrace progressive business models, transparency, collaboration,community building and the consumerization of technology.

Leading businesses are now leveraging Next Generation Workspace design for easy collaboration, and for employees to find quiet spaces for heads-down work, says Brown.  “These spaces include areas like lounge rooms, silent rooms, phone booths, collaboration places, immersive collaboration rooms and touchdown spaces.  These varying spaces are built-for-purpose to put the Next Gen worker in a position to maximize productivity and effectiveness.”

Keep your eyes open for some upcoming articles in which we dig deeper into what this Next-Generation Workplace looks like. Topics we’re going to cover include defining the many types of collaboration and concentration spaces, the types of technology that goes into each to maximize productivity, and how business people utilize each type of space.

What about your business?  What types of specialty spaces are available to you?  Do you have the flexibility to easily work in the space that will suit your needs depending on the task at hand, or do you feel locked to your desk?  Let us know in the comments section below.

Topics: video, collaboration, Employees, Huddle Rooms, Meeting Rooms, Use Case

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