The connection between privacy and collaboration
Workplace Principle 3: Facilitate Collaboration
In order to facilitate collaboration in a workplace (one of the five principles in the development of workplace strategy), a workplace strategist might want to create different home bases for teams or groups to base themselves in at the office.
The aim is for these home bases to increase collaboration between groups that benefit from working together. If you’re asking yourself what a home base is, read this first. But if you want to learn more about designing the workplace from the perspective of employees’ activity profiles – keep reading.
Different groups have different needs
Each group’s activity profile will differ depending on the tasks employees need to carry out. If you intend to increase collaboration between groups through a common home base, you should pay attention to activity profiles so that groups with similar profiles end up close to each other.
A home base for a project manager can, for example, differ greatly from that for an economist, which in turn can differ greatly from a lawyer’s home base. Project managers might want informal project spaces with visualisation tools while still having desks nearby. Economists might benefit from being able to exchange information quickly and have informal check-ins, which gives their home base a more open and interactive layout compared to a legal department, which might require more privacy.
Similarly, the need for agreed-upon conventions within home bases can vary from group to group as their activity patterns differ. Some groups might need to take calls and meetings in their home bases, while for others this could be very disruptive. This is why it’s important to consider activity profiles when designing home bases.
Make privacy the priority
What should you do when different groups’ needs work against each other? On one hand, a business can benefit from groups with different activity patterns integrating, overhearing information, and using their home base for informal meetings. On the other hand, their different work patterns can create conflicting demands for the home base’s layout and conventions.
In cases like these, we tend to work from a rule that the need for privacy must be fulfilled before an individual can be available for others.
This is because if someone needs to complete a task but keeps getting interrupted or disturbed, he or she will look to different strategies for completing the work. Some strategies include shutting themselves out aurally with headphones, moving away from the rowdy home base, or working from places other than the office. These strategies make individuals unavailable to others.
If they remain in the home base, their brains will cognitively try to maintain their attention on the task at hand. If they succeed, they will not take in external information; if they fail, they will be disrupted.
Applying cognitive strategies for maintaining focus is demanding and runs the risk of people working significantly slower than they could have done in quiet conditions, or that mistakes are made and they need to spend more time correcting the work later on.
Finally, people who are tired, stressed, or burnt out will find it harder to apply such strategies.
Regardless of the strategy someone uses, if a home base doesn’t normally fulfil his or her need for privacy, the result is that that individual will often be unavailable for the desired interactions that are the reason behind placing people together. However if the need for privacy is typically catered for, that individual can make him or herself more available for interactions and participate in quick information exchanges when needed.
Utilise digital and organisational tools
In order to physically facilitate collaboration, there are organisational and digital methods you can lean on. One example could be placing home bases close to each other so that they are easily accessible to outside groups. Or you can create collaboration spaces within the home bases that invite cooperation between relevant groups.
Further, digital tools can increase inter-group collaboration without causing physical disturbances within home bases.
The next step
So far, you’ve learned about creating home bases for different groups at the office, and how to do so in a way that supports the activity profiles of different groups. This a great way to naturally facilitate collaboration within an organisation.
But once groups have been divided into their respective home bases, the time comes to establish conventions around what behaviours are accepted, and what needs to be taken elsewhere. Read more on that here.
Click here for more information about the five principles and the Workplace Adequacy™ Framework.
This article is based on the book, Workplace Strategy for the Flexible Office by Aram Seddigh. For more information on the book and workplace strategy in general, click here.
Seddigh, A. 2022. Arbetsplatsstrategi för det flexibla kontoret : metoder, verktyg och case med fokus på hybrid och aktivitetsbaserat arbetssätt, Stockholm, Blue Publishing.
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