15% more productivity with a marketplace in the office

Communication zones are important meeting points in everyday office life. These "marketplaces" and meeting places provide for informal exchanges among those who do not meet in everyday work. Because of ingrained processes, we talk to some colleagues on a daily basis and not at all to others. But it is precisely through conversations outside our cosmos, i.e. with employees from other departments, that new collaborations and creative thought-provoking impulses arise. The creation of an ideal meeting place can not only strengthen the sense of community between colleagues, but also demonstrably stimulate their motivation and performance - so not only is the team feeling improved, but the whole company becomes more productive!

Random encounters increase productivity up to 15%

Who doesn't know it? Just when we are looking for an outstanding idea at the push of a button, we usually don't want to come up with it. Often it is moments away from the pressure to perform, possibly in an exchange with colleagues, that we are overwhelmed with ideas. A kind of "idea ping pong" develops between the interlocutors - a tossing back and forth of ideas and suggestions that inspire both sides to new thoughts. But in everyday working life, chance encounters that could strengthen possible cooperation and innovation between colleagues and departments rarely happen.

Meeting place for spontaneous meetings

Yet these encounters have been proven to support productivity! A research group at MIT studied the so-called "water cooler effect" - the extent to which meeting colleagues away from the desk, for example at the water cooler or the coffee machine, has an impact on performance. They found that the productivity of employees can be increased by 10 to 15 % when they meet in small groups, which creates a sense of community.

What has brought us together for millennia is (not) a secret

The secret of the natural meeting place, ingrained in us for millennia, revolves around two vital things: food & drink.

Wherever there is food and drink, people are not far away. Thus, after thousands of years, a fireplace became a modern kitchen in which the very nice colleagues occasionally serve home-baked cakes or similar delicacies. No sooner is the "buffet" declared open in the in-house Slack Chat than even the ever-stressed colleague makes a quick dash towards the kitchen, or at least to where he can find the free treat. Colleagues meet who never meet in everyday working life. Between clattering dishes and cake crumbs, they chat nonchalantly about the weather and the past weekend. But unfortunately, these conversations tend to remain superficial because kitchens lack the necessary degree of cosiness and privacy. So what else do you need - apart from fabulous cakes - to strengthen the group feeling within a company?

The 3 pillars of the ideal meeting place

What are the effects of workplace design on conversations?

Although the kitchen is an inviting place to linger, it is not the ideal place for in-depth conversations. As long as everyone can overhear, most people prefer to keep a low profile. Anne-Laure Fayard and John Weeksist have found out why. The assistant professor of management at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University and the professor of leadership and organisational behaviour at IMD in Lausanne conducted nine studies in Europe, Asia and the USA over a period of more than twelve years and examined the effects of workplace design on conversations between employees. It turns out that a space promotes or hinders contacts depending on its "offering" or "prompting" character. But what exactly is meant by this?

The concept of US psychologist James Gibson

To understand the "offer" and "call" character of a space, it helps to understand the concept specifically developed by US psychologist James Gibson. It describes how an object or an environment communicates its purpose and its possible uses to the outside world. Thus, the offer of a door creates an invitation to enter or leave the space and its handle invites us to reach out. Gibson was convinced that the offer character can be ignored or misunderstood if the effects are so subtle that they are no longer perceived due to a changed environment.

"Proximity, privacy and permission" - the 3 pillars of the ideal meeting place in your office for good conversations between your employees

Based on their extensive studies, Anne-Laure Fayard and John Weeksist concluded that the ideal meeting place must Proximity, privacy and permission must allow for a productive exchange between employees. Now the question naturally arises: "As an employer, how do you create a place where proximity, privacy and permission are equally present? And what do each of these mean in concrete terms?"

Near

  • Is the meeting place provided easily accessible for all employees?
  • Is it located at a natural hub that all staff pass through in the course of a day?
  • Is the room adapted to the number of employees so that it neither seems cramped nor overwhelmingly large? British psychologist Robin Dunbar recommends an average of between 100 and 250 people.

Privacy

  • Are there enough varying standing and sitting options (such as high-backed sofas with privacy screens) to have undisturbed conversations?
  • Are the seating options arranged in such a way that everything is manageable, but each seating area offers a place of retreat ?

Permission

  • Does the room offer an open and inviting atmosphere?
  • Is it possible to hold spontaneous meetings?
  • Can work be done at tables and on seating?

A place to meet, exchange, linger and work

So what can it look like, this place where employees like to spend time, get in touch with each other, hold spontaneous meetings and are struck by flashes of inspiration?

A counter-example - how it does not work

The airline Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) started thinking about "marketplaces" in the office as early as 1987 and redesigned its corporate headquarters: this created a natural hub in the middle of the building, a so-called "street", which connected a café, shopping facilities, medical care and multifunctional rooms (equipped with cosy office furniture, printer, coffee machine, etc.).

Just 9% of the encounters took place on the street and in the café and only 27% in all other public places - but two thirds of the encounters happened in old familiar office spaces. What went wrong here?

Since there was no study to explain what didn't work at SAS, we can only guess: While the natural node was provided by the "street", one could not immediately sit down comfortably and start chatting - a suitable place had to be sought first. If this failed after one or two unsuccessful attempts, the project was possibly postponed to another time - perhaps to the office. On the other hand, the "street" could also have been too big, so that people ran into each other in the most distant sense, but not close enough to actually want to start a conversation.

How it works: 400 m² marketplace for 200 people

A good example of this is the so-called "marketplace" at Lufhansa Technik in Hamburg. On an area of 400m², 200 people find enough space for spontaneous conversations, meetings, table football duels, as well as receiving visitors or a varied workplace. Crossing the marketplace is an everyday and automatic process, as the different departments of the employees are located around this meeting place. So it is quite natural to run into colleagues and meet for a snack or a coffee and suddenly come up with ideas that haven't shown up all week.

The ideal meeting place: Café meets Workspace

So what is left when one takes the three factors of proximity, privacy and permission , contrasts them with Gibson's "offer" and "call" character and differentiates with the observation that meeting points alone are not enough? A place where one likes to linger without a guilty conscience, which is neither too small nor too big (Robin Dunbar's mediocrity), protects the privacy of the individual and is easily accessible for every staff member.

This is exactly what the clever minds at the Dark Horse agency have been thinking about. In the "New Workspace Playbook" they claim that places from everyday life can also be transferred to the world of work - such as the atmosphere of a café. Why a café in particular? It is a place where many people also like to spend time in private, meet friends and let their thoughts wander.

The smell of freshly brewed coffee and warm pastries is in the air, the arrangement of the furniture seems to have the perfect place ready for each individual, and the punctual lighting creates a hair-trigger balance between cosiness and concentration, so that you don't sink into your armchair in a sleepy stupor. And when you look around, you would love to have all the decoration, including plants, framed pictures and photos, in your own home.

Why no one is lazy, but in fact everyone is working

So far, the idea of the café has sounded quite tempting. But the thought of being "caught" by your supervisor while you sit back for a moment and have a chat with colleagues quickly makes some people feel uncomfortable. But you really don't have to have a guilty conscience ... Because of course it's not a real café, it only looks like one at first glance. Actually, the café - no, we mean the "Work Lounge" or the "Communication Café" - offers the best conditions for working.

Meeting place without a guilty conscience

The ideal meeting place for casual conversations among colleagues is therefore a place that exudes the atmosphere of a café, but at the same time offers optimal conditions for an unconventional workplace:

A selection of food and drink is always at hand, light-coloured furniture with a wood element invites people to linger, office plants, pictures, carpets and other elements contain the noise level, and the wall and floor design is reminiscent of the company's brand identity without being obtrusive. In order to also be able to work at any time, the ideal meeting place is equipped with multifunctional furniture . Larger and smaller tables of different heights are juxtaposed with a wide variety of seating such as armchairs, sofas, lounge chairs and chairs. It is important here that the atmosphere of a café is always maintained. The availability of sufficient power sockets and good Wi-Fi reception is essential - without electricity and internet, nothing works today. For presentations outside the typical office space and a cinema atmosphere after work, the integration of a projector is perfect.

Would you also like a "work lounge" in your office? Our experts will be happy to advise you!