Why do collaborative spaces fail?


By Keti Malkoski

When developing a future workplace strategy with a client one objective or driver for change that is frequently identified by stakeholders, is the aim to promote collaboration between people and teams. To achieve this, modern work environments incorporate a range of informal and formal ‘collaborative’ spaces within various workplace areas. These spaces are becoming increasingly diverse; created in a range of sizes to support individuals and groups, with varying degrees of enclosure and privacy, and they incorporate different digital and analogue resources. However, despite the intention to promote collaboration, post-occupancy employee perceptions and utilisation data indicate that these spaces sometimes ‘fail’.

Schiavello research suggests some of the reasons why these interactive spaces may not have the desired impact of encouraging collaboration include:

• Inconvenient or inappropriate location _ Stopping and starting a spontaneous discussion to find a shared meeting space is disruptive. Some designs place meeting spaces in ‘left- over’ corners and circulation spaces, which are often too distant from formal work areas, too close to co-workers, or in an area perceived to be too public.

• Lack of availability or relevance _ Collaborative spaces may become ‘unavailable’ because pressing workplace needs result in them becoming over utilised for various reasons - storage, new workstations, and other teams. Or, they are irrelevant because they do not contain adequate resources to support collaboration, such as information and communication technologies.

• Unsupportive culture _ In some organisational cultures or even group sub-cultures, employees do not use informal collaborative spaces due to feelings of shame and guilt. Often they fear they will not appear to be working by managers or co-workers, especially when informal shared spaces contain social elements such as coffee facilities or even games.

To overcome these collaborative space challenges, organisations need to first understand what collaboration at work actually is, and secondly, understand what behaviours and attitudes lead to collaboration. Collaboration is defined by two of more people working together over time with a common purpose to produce a joint outcome. Before employees can collaborate then, they need to be aware of each other and interact. Awareness is defined by knowing what is happening around you, but not necessarily being involved in the actions and events. Therefore, spaces need to be created that promote awareness of who is working in them and what they are working on. This can be achieved through identity expressions and personalisation.

Finally, spaces are needed that promote interactions - the rapid and momentary personal and work related exchanges that allow knowledge to be shared and lead to collaboration. With these considerations in mind, organisations are more likely to create effective collobatorative spaces and avoid the common pitfalls.