Activity Based Working: What Is A Collaboration Zone?

Activity Based Working is a concept that thinks of work as an activity rather than a place. It gives employees the freedom to decide how and where they work best. One of the most popular spaces in the office is the collaboration zone that increases creativity and productivity. 

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Collaborative workspaces are designed to bring team members together and facilitate innovation and discussion. They range from formal conference rooms to huddle rooms or sofas in the cafeteria. Regardless of the design, their key purpose is to create a work environment that inspires and encourages collaboration.

Traditionally, collaboration and team meetings were scheduled for the conference room. Today, flexible, informal and impromptu meetings are more common. According to a recent survey by PWC, 87% of employees believe that it’s important to collaborate and build relationships at the office. Since collaboration is a fundamental part of business, having dedicated zones for creativity and discussion lead to better results.

The demand for innovation and social connection has driven this transition towards ABW.

Collaboration zones encourage employees to bounce ideas off each other and solve problems as a unit. By creating spaces that inspire creativity and innovation, it creates a greater sense of belonging and originality. For example, Steve Jobs redesigned Pixar’s HQ to promote unplanned collaboration. Originally, different departments worked in different buildings, but Jobs wanted everyone to share ideas and solutions together.

Most importantly, in the agile working era, collaboration zones help remote workers feel included and present. With collaborative technology such as interactive displays, whiteboards and auto-tracking cameras, remote workers can be part of the in-office conversations too.

Collaboration zone benefits:

  • Increased communication
  • More effective meetings and teamwork
  • Positive company culture
  • Development of innovative ideas
  • Better staff retention
  • Wider talent pool


What Does A Collaboration Zone Look Like?

"Whether it is a room full of digital tools to share ideas, brainstorm or present or simply a sensory rich relaxed space where the surroundings and décor extract creativity and entrepreneurship, the collaboration zone should be comfortable and inspiring" - Jenny Hicks, Head of Technology at Midwich Group PLC.

The look and feel of a collaboration space greatly impacts the levels of creativity and problem solving. Collaboration involves participation and sharing ideas openly and comfortably – values that this space is set to embody by implementing techniques such as arranging ergonomic furniture in a circle to symbolise an equal exchange of ideas.

Firstly, businesses should consider the types of collaboration the space will facilitate, as this will impact the design of the collaboration zone. Depending on whether the space will be used for a conference meeting, a quick discussion or as a creative outlet – different features will be required.

The office design is likely be an open plan with various areas of seating and resources. Considering this, it’s important to maintain flexibility and future-proof the space for when the company, task and technology inevitably grow and change.

Layout and Design

Comfort is an essential attribute of the collaboration zone. Employees should instantly feel empowered and inspired to collaborate efficiently. Having a range of sofas, chairs, stools and standing desks gives employees the choice to decide where they will be most comfortable.

Additionally, it should be arranged in ways that make employees feel at ease and open to sharing ideas. Coffee and snack stations are also popular so that employees have everything they need in one space for long meetings.

However, huddle rooms, conference rooms and private booths may also be added for more specific purposes. Huddle rooms are typically used for smaller teams to connect in a private space for increased productivity. As they’re compact, businesses can usually install more than one in the zone. Booths are similar except they offer more privacy such as sound masking for confidential meetings. Conference rooms are more formal and facilitate more people.

Research shows that colour can affect mood and emotions. A collaboration zone with white walls isn’t likely to spark creativity. Instead, using bright colours such as yellow and orange is believed to inspire creativity, imagination and enthusiasm.

Most importantly, as we covered in our first blog post of this ABW series, to ensure that the collaboration zone is beneficial to its users, businesses must listen to their employees. Ask them, “what do you need to make collaboration more efficient?” and give them the resources they need to fully utilise the space.


Case Study: Sennheiser 

In 2018, Veldhoen + Company was hired to transform Sennheiser’s office in Singapore. Firstly, employees partook in workshops to gain insight into how the activity based office would be used. The main goal was to drive more innovation, communication and collaboration in the office. Consequently, they created a large café that doubles as a collaboration area for casual meetings as well as formal town hall gatherings. 

“The purpose of opening this office is to introduce to the Sennheiser staff the collaborative nature of working. This new office is an ‘Activity Based Workplace’, in that inculcates a culture of networking, moving about and constant collaboration” – Daniel Sennheiser, joint CEO at Sennheiser. 

Sennheiser office layout

Meeting rooms were advanced with booking systems that automatically release meeting room participants when they fail to show up, freeing the meeting room and increasing efficiency. It was also a great opportunity to use some of their own products such as speakers that automatically focus on the speaker’s voice. Employees also got an introductory coffee making course to boost employee satisfaction.


What Technology Is Needed In A Collaboration Zone?

Technology is a key driver of collaboration, especially in the rise of agile working. Interactive displays with communication tools and video conferencing capabilities are critical for remote workers to stay connected with in-office team members.

Using technology that works straight out of the box without any training is crucial in collaboration zones as it enables teams to engage straight away rather than wasting time figuring it out. Displays with embedded video communication such as Microsoft Teams or Zooms will increase effective collaboration as employees are likely already familiar with these tools.

Applications that support Bring Your Own Meeting (BYOM) and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) are essential for businesses adopting agile working. Large-format displays will be ideal for presentations and conference rooms. With innovative features, employees can connect their mobile phone or tablet to the big screen and begin presenting or brainstorming ideas.

Find out more about BYOM and BYOD.

Plenty of connectivity options and power points should be available for employees bringing their own devices for collaboration. Security should always be a priority and considered in shared spaces. 

Individual monitors are also beneficial in the collaboration zone as pairs of employees can gather around and share ideas. Touch screen monitors, especially, enable more than one person at a time to control the screen. 

Activity based workplaces allow employees to choose what space facilitates their working task best. The collaboration zone is a fundamental part of the modern office as it encourages creativity and promotes connectivity.

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