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"Serendipitous encounters of the workspace kind". A guest blog entry by Spaceoasis

Tuesday, 8 November, 2016

Innovation has long been hailed as the life-blood of business. We have Charles Darwin to thank for the slightly unnerving ‘innovate or die’ mantra often trotted out by entrepreneurs and business leaders. While innovation may be necessary to survival, actually making it happen can be hugely challenging. Collaborative workspaces are gaining popularity as one response to finding ways to drive innovation and efficiency within organisations.

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Happy Accidents
The belief behind serendipity (def: a desirable discovery made by accident) in the workplace is that networks, rather than hierarchies, drive businesses and projects forward. Designing collaborative workspaces that force unplanned interaction between co-workers helps build and strengthen those networks, creating opportunities for serendipitous encounters. You’ve probably experienced a casual chat on the stairs that gave you a great idea, or an impromptu meeting over coffee that unblocked a project. Serendipitous workspaces are designed to make those meetings happen deliberately, rather than by chance.


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Giants of collaboration
Perhaps the most famous example of a workspace designed to encourage collaboration and serendipitous encounters is Pixar’s offices in Emeryville, California, conceived by Steve Jobs. He decided that rather than creating separate spaces for each department, he would drive collaboration by design. People from all over the campus are drawn to the central atrium, which houses mailboxes, screening rooms, cafes and leisure facilities, where they mingle with people they might not ordinarily see. Even the shyest introvert has to leave the safety of their desk and make eye contact with others. Originally the only bathrooms in the building were on the ground floor, which meant everyone had to walk down the central staircase for a comfort break (although this was later changed, you have to admire the commitment!). Google’s offices share a similarly collaborative ethos, which it refers to as ‘casual collisions’, and you are never more than 150ft from food, whether that’s a micro kitchen, coffee shop or restaurant, so there are plenty of places for planned and spontaneous meetings. Private phone rooms, sofas, booths, pods and meeting rooms provide a variety of places to work alone or collaborate with others.


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Back in the real world...
Not all of us have the luxury of designing an office from the ground up with a billion dollar budget, but if you’re planning a refit it’s worth considering how you could encourage more serendipitous encounters and collaboration between teams. Whether it’s a coffee bar on the ground floor, a range of meeting pods or soft seating areas to encourage spontaneous sit-downs, encouraging strong networks should be on your list of objectives when thinking about your workspace design.


We'd like to give a big thanks to the team at Spaceoasis for this blog entry. Keep your eyes peeled for more guest blog entries very soon!