One key to happy employees is interpersonal relationships in the office. It’s proven to increase job satisfaction, productivity, and company culture. Employers can foster an environment that builds office interaction, both through communication and teamwork policies, as well as office design.
While technology is designed to connect us more, sometimes it does the opposite. Even though technology allows much more efficient communication through the use of email, chat software, and teleconferencing, it reduces face-to-face interaction. When employees are connected through pixels and email, they can lose the sense of belonging and inclusion that comes from a rigorous project planning or brainstorming session. Striking a balance is important.
A few large corporations are learning this. IBM discontinued their remote-working program, pushing thousands of employees back into the office. Google’s cafés are strategically placed to encourage interdepartmental interaction. Apple uses their state-of-the-art technology to facilitate teambuilding and collaboration across their workforce.
Use technology to your advantage. Consider:
- Interactive conference rooms and project planning spaces. An idea wall puts collaborators in the same real estate to map out blueprints for the next product or service rollout.
- Teleconferencing equipment in larger employee gathering spots, so company-wide meetings can take place with locations all over the world. Making the quarterly meeting more interactive, with questions from employees and colleagues, gives workers a platform to stay engaged.
- Meeting planning software can be used in a variety of different ways. Some companies with game rooms or fitness areas with a racquetball court can use the reservation function of meeting planning to set up games with coworkers. Perhaps even a company-wide tournament would build a spirit of teamwork and healthy competition.
How much we interact with our colleagues is all in the way we move. In a closed office, with the door shut, we may be free from distraction, but we’re also free from interaction. Encouraging movement not just in terms of employee exercise with a fitness area but with the flow of foot traffic can do wonders for your workforce’s proximity to one another.
Open office plans have their pros and cons but they allow freedom to include seating alcoves for employees to converse in comfort, a more expansive project planning space, or even simply non-traditional workstations without partitions, unlike cubicles.
Centralizing break areas gives employees a reason to get up and move, and they’re more likely to run into colleagues from other departments. Sure, everyone likes the coffee machine to be only steps away, but without the need to traverse more real estate, workers are less likely to run into people they don’t sit near or see every day.
Adding a café-like setting also encourages communication between departments. The third place gets its power from the fact that it’s entertaining to be there, and with people conversing over a latte or even a beer, it’s less stifling than a meeting room. By giving employees a place to relax and let down their guard, they have reason to voice ideas that may not be typical, or to even air grievances. Employees who aren’t given the opportunity to vent or even confront to resolve interpersonal issues with colleagues are going to sour on their place within the company very quickly.
Encouraging movement has the added bonus of getting the employees in your company away from their computers for a few minutes. By providing pleasing spaces to walk, say around an outdoor water feature such as a fountain or to a courtyard with a Japanese garden, you’re giving them permission to exercise and still their minds. Even if they speak to no one while taking a break from their computers, when they return to their work area, they come back refreshed and more relaxed, which fosters positive communications between team members. Some companies even have designated walking paths that weave through all the departments in the building, so departments can interact with each other for no other reason than to say hello and remind each other they exist.
Getting your employees up and moving, conversing, and generally interacting—whether they have a project together or a conversation leads to future innovations—is smart business. The office that communicates well is the office that grows and succeeds. It takes more than connectivity through pixels.
Sometimes it takes connectivity by design.