[Work Space] Glad I Bumped into You . . . .


Little things count; they frequently count very big.

A recent post spoke to the smarts behind picking the right time zones for multiple locations that optimize work.

This post extends that thought to how workplace shapes individual and organizational performance.

While the Yahoo (and to degree, HP) move to eliminate telecommuting by remote workers was an interesting step, it misses the bigger point.

It’s not just having folks on the same campus; it’s making sure that they bump into each other the right way.

As one researcher put it, “Collaboration is a body contact sport.

It turns out that strong personal ties – ties that get sustained over multiple content domains and that nurture spontaneous collaborations – occur when people have occasion to “bump” into each other on a regular basis.

Design firm Kahler Slater’s research on what makes a great workplace has 14 characteristics. Here’s six that are particularly relevant:

  • Distraction free space
  • Collaboration and impromptu interaction
  • Undistracted teamwork and meetings
  • Accommodation of personal work styles and person workstations
  • Workspaces allocated by function
  • Expression of an organizational culture

Adam Jaffe’s work from 1993 on patent filings and proximity can be summarized in one phrase: proximity counts. The closer people physically work the more patent filings are generated.

Lastly, a great example of these principles in action is Pixar’s Emeryville Campus, inspired heavily by Steve Jobs’ vision of the advantage of serendipity and unplanned collaboration. Directing people to the same bathrooms, common lunch areas, and entry atriums where people can’t help but bump into each other is a simple way to foster the sort of climate that fosters innovation, collaboration, and ultimately performance.

Little things count. How you set up your workspace is one of those little things that counts big.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub.

Cubicle (Photo credit: yuan2003)

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