02/14/2023 • 6 min read

How and Why Being in the Office Improves Collaboration

The right spaces support the in-person connections that can never be replaced by remote collaboration

by Aaron Haworth

Work is no longer a destination but instead an activity occurring widely throughout various locations, like the home and office. Within a work-from-anywhere ecosystem, however, the office remains the central hub where work and collaboration occur. According to one recent survey from JLL, 72% of respondents see the office as the primary center around which work revolves, with a similar 77% saying quality office space remains a priority.

As we seek to better understand what bringing people into the office looks like—for today and in the future—it’s important to recognize one size won’t fit all. Improving collaboration will look different based on industry, culture, and organizational needs.

Make the Office a Desirable Choice

One of the keys to improving collaboration is encouraging employees to make the conscious choice to come into the office because it benefits their work and business relationships.

According to research from CBRE, about 60% of Asia-Pacific organizations, 70% of US organizations, and 80% of European and Middle Eastern organizations have a hybrid or flexible work policy that allows people to balance some of their time at home and some of their time in the office. This indicates that hybrid work is likely here to stay, as people demand it and organizations have widely implemented hybrid programs across their workplaces. However, the same survey found that only about 50% of US employees, 35% of European and Middle Eastern employees, and 25% of Asia-Pacific employees have control over whether or not they go into the office daily.

Digging even deeper, we’ve learned improving collaboration and group work is one of the main drivers for bringing employees into the office at least a few days per week. Indeed, the office is a much better environment for intensely collaborative and complex tasks compared to a space at home dedicated to individual work.

Key Themes for Current & Future Workplace Design

These findings line up well with the hundreds of conversations Haworth has had with customers on the topic. In response, we focus on 5 key themes we found to be influencing the future of office work.

Haworth Spark icon representing Digital Workplace

1.    Immersive Technology

Building connections with collaboration technology throughout the entire office

Spaces & Features:
•    Collaboration and videoconferencing software
•    Virtual touchdown spaces
•    Screen sharing in open collaborative spaces
•    Room booking technology – both walkup and pre-scheduling

Haworth Spark icon representing Collaboration

2.   More Collaboration

Offering a variety of unassigned Social Spaces that support a range of group activities

Spaces & Features:
•    More open collaboration areas
•    Team focused workstations that allow idea sharing and connection
•    Freestanding architecture that creates project spaces
•    Maintaining some enclosed rooms for focused or private group work

Haworth Spark icon representing Well Being

3.    Focus to Restore

Providing spaces to rest and recharge is just as important as having spaces designed for work tasks

Spaces & Features:
•    Retreat and relaxation spaces
•    Workspaces that offer user control and easy mode-switching
•    Work cafés and refresh areas

Haworth Spark icon representing Space Shift

4.    Space Shift

Offering variety and choice in unassigned Social Spaces to support a range of group activities

Spaces & Features:
•    Meeting spaces with support for a variety of people and postures
•    Various applications, each with the right tools and accommodations for specific collaborative modes
•    Open spaces with mobile tools and flexible furniture

Haworth Spark icon for representing More Human

5.    More Human

Creating welcoming spaces that foster well-being and encourage people to express themselves

Spaces & Features:
•    Updated materials with a timeless, hospitable aesthetic
•    Work cafés with a variety of applications that suit individuals and groups
•    User control within workstation areas that allow for orientation changes to collaborate or separate from high-traffic areas

Specifically, “More Collaboration” is viewed as essential to the future of the office environment and its functions. Intertwined within the need for greater collaboration is the need for a quality office environment that invites, welcomes, and supports employees.

Get Our Guide to Better Comfort and Support

Discover the basics of ergonomics and find out how choosing the right chair can provide the comfort and support people need to get work done.

Social Connections Improve Collaboration

To bring in employees who would otherwise stay home, organizations should work to create an environment that fixes the challenges remote work can create. For example, in a Microsoft survey, 70% of survey respondents said that the social element of collaboration was an important aspect that was harmed by remote-only collaboration. In the same survey, spontaneity, creativity, and effective communication were also seen as potential losses for remote-only collaboration.

Creating an office environment that fosters close connections and socializing is a great way to improve relationships, and in turn collaboration. An office environment with more coworkers who are closely connected will also help increase the opportunity for spontaneous touchpoints and encourage clearer communication. It’s also important to note that a lack of work tools was not a significant issue, indicating that cultivating relationships is really what drives people back to work.

While there is evidence to suggest employees’ closest relationships were somewhat enhanced due to remote work, there is also ample evidence that says people have become increasingly disconnected from the people they don’t work with every day but would typically see around the office environment. This makes intuitive sense, as people went from seeing a wider variety of people in the office to typically working in smaller teams that could be effective working together digitally.

“When you lose connections, you stop innovating. It’s harder for new ideas to get in and groupthink becomes a serious possibility.”

Dr. Nancy Baym

Microsoft Senior Principal Researcher

Bringing people back into the office specifically to collaborate in person will make more paths cross and increase the strength of more distant network bonds that may have frayed. Additionally, in-person collaboration can solve for some of the lost creativity and innovation we’ve experienced due to remote-only connections.

Culture Matters Too

It’s important to note different organizational cultures have unique preferred ways of collaborating that can all be improved through in-person work, as well. The following describes how the each of the 4 main culture types, as described in the Competing Values Framework™, views collaboration.

Collaborate Culture

As the name implies, Collaborate cultures focus on working together to create solutions. They tend to benefit greatly from face-to-face meetings and an emphasis on connection. They thrive in environments with impromptu meetings and informal gatherings in spaces like lobbies, cafés, lounges, and community areas.

Create Culture

Create cultures benefit from being able to think and visualize together, discuss a wide range of topics, and drive solutions through a process of continuous feedback. Office environments with community centers and empowering meeting spaces are important to supporting their creativity.

Control Culture

Focused on doing things right, Control cultures often collaborate through heavy information sharing, which is done better in person—using conference rooms, team spaces, and training rooms.

Compete Culture

Compete cultures tackle time-sensitive tasks that drive solutions to market efficiently. They work effectively in all types of environments, but they too benefit greatly from the speed and effectiveness in-person collaboration can deliver in ways remote collaboration can’t.

Ultimately, there are many reasons to want employees back in the office, but perhaps none more important than nurturing the natural relationships between coworkers and teammates. In turn, in-person work can clearly support better collaboration, improved creativity and innovation, and stronger outcomes as a result.

More on Social Spaces

Create beautiful, welcoming spaces that invite people to connect, collaborate, and restore.


You May Also Like