When people meet each other things happen

Ideas are a series of connections put together in new ways. Successful organisations consider their working environments carefully in order to optimise ‘water cooler’ moments where colleagues can make connections, share ideas and solve problems.

“Steve put the mailboxes, meeting rooms, cafeteria, and, most insidiously and brilliantly, the bathrooms in the centre – which initially drove us crazy – so that you run into everybody during the course of a day. [Jobs] realised that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen” Brad Bird, Director of The Incredibles (from The Science of Serendipity sourced from Rao et al 2008)

Below are some ways that you can set up your work environment to help make those connections happen.

Flexible spaces; sometimes you need to be on your own to think, sometimes you need a space to put all your ideas on the table (or the wall), sometimes you need a comfortable spot to have informal chats with colleagues about your idea. Your work environment must be flexible and offer all these space options.

Space that reflects or relates to your cause; whatever cause you fundraise for, your day to day environment should reflect that cause, inspire and help you stay connected. Every day. Check out UKTV Dave – the home of witty banter and their ideas workspace reflects that. If Dave can do it so can you.


Communal areas; like a communal kitchen where colleagues can have a cup of tea or coffee or eat together – a social place for informal random conversations, especially if it facilitates chat between people who would not usually work together. Make the communal place in the centre of the workplace to maximise opportunities for people to run into each other.

Hot desk; encourage people to hot desk. We don’t need so much stuff, like paper files and rolodex’s (!?) anymore so resist the urge to nest at ‘your’ desk and spend at least half a day a week in a different desk location.

Space for stuff; have a place to share projects, ideas, working models and prototypes, it could be a notice board, or a workbench but it needs to be in a place where people will see it and interact – use humour and unusual props to get peoples attention.

Social clubs; Innocent (the smoothie people) encourage social clubs, for example they have a Cake Club, a Gardening Club and a Cycling Club to build better relationships and opportunities to make connections between colleagues across the whole business not just between one team or department.

Go to the pub; some people might not want to join a social club, so you have to set up other ways to get to know your colleagues better and understand what makes them tick. I bet that they have skills and experiences that you didn’t know about which are resources to draw on. There is lots of evidence to prove that understanding each other helps to build strong trusting relationships which in turn enables us to work more effectively with each other. (Read The Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey for starters)

Involve employees in the development of their environment: the University of Exeter have spent some time exploring whether giving employees a say into the input in the workspace makes a difference to productivity. They found that those who had an input in the design and decoration of their own working environment scored a 32% increase in productivity vs people instructed to work in a bland room.

So there we have it. A well-designed working environment can help facilitate making connections and drive creativity and innovation. And if your employees have input into this environment it is also proven to lead to increased productivity. Simple.

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