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Offices across America have transformed from cubicle-heavy to predominantly open workspaces, according to a 2018 survey listing an open office as the most widespread design[1]. While in theory these open spaces were created to increase communication among employees, many have complained they’ve done just the opposite, along with harming productivity and growing employee frustrations. In fact, a recent Harvard study found that open spaces actually make teams less collaborative as the number of employee face-to-face interactions dropped from 5.8 to 1.7 hours per day.

Undoubtedly, many executives will debate what the data says, and the open office trend will continue. And while it does, we must find a way to effectively work in shared spaces and ensure collaboration doesn’t further suffer. Here are five steps that I’ve found helpful for promoting collaboration and team productivity, regardless of office layout or where my teams are physically located.

Allow time for teamwork.

Are your teams so bogged down with administration and client work that they rarely have time for unrestricted brainstorming? Since overscheduling is inevitable in most businesses, encourage team meetings and projects when possible so that tasks aren’t siloed completely. It’s always beneficial to have a teammate’s fresh perspective on a challenge, and it’s important to make teamwork part of the regular work structure.

Schedule time away from computers.

How often have you been in a meeting where everyone is staring at their laptops or you’re on a call and can easily tell the other person is distracted? We’re all guilty of multitasking to our detriment and the detriment of our colleagues. I often request laptop-free meetings or encourage employees to take a call while walking. This ensures they’re away from their computer and undistracted. Furthermore, standing can help exude more energy and confidence. There are many great Bluetooth wireless headsets that make talking while moving about an office seamless.

Embrace collaboration tools.

Especially when managing remote employees, collaboration tools are essential to fostering team communication and accountability. Solid options encompass document sharing, assigning tasks and notes, helping to streamline cross-office communication and minimize frustrations when colleagues span geographies.

Promote mentoring.

I’m a big proponent of mentoring across levels and teams. Not only is mentoring a tool in career progression but it also starts a freeform conversation among employees who might not otherwise interact. Depending on your company structure, you can coordinate one-on-one meetings or regular sessions between senior leaders and more junior staff. It’s unlikely the conversation will be limited to tips and tricks for working their way up the corporate ladder but will encompass more open discussion about clients, projects and company culture.

Reward creativity.

Collaboration has many intended goals and one of which is creativity. To nurture this, managers should recognize and reward truly creative thinking. Whether in an internal newsletter, a weekly staff meeting or a company event, acknowledge those displaying the characteristics you’re after. Display creative client work or coordinate a training session by a colleague that brought creative thinking to a problem. These types of internal communications are going to be more interesting to other employees and help create a roadmap for them.

The key, common element of the above tips is that most can be accomplished without much investment or added company resources. Collaboration requires more of a mental strategy than anything else, and if it is important to leadership, then it will organically spread throughout the company. Based on your current company communication level, I challenge you to implement two to three of these recommendations in the new year. We should all approach January with new objectives, and I encourage you to make collaboration a priority.

[1] Jabra Knowledge Worker Study 2018