Employees socializing around Haworth Immerse Table

Work Socially or Socially Working?

Find a spot to pause, gather, connect, or refresh

We’ve all talked about these spaces. It’s highly likely that we have all worked there. So, I think it’s time to give them a formal name: social spaces.

What are social spaces? They are places that do more than provide a place to sit and a surface to work at—the purpose is for people to feel at ease and encourage conversations.

Social spaces need to be inspiring so people can pause, gather, connect, and/or refresh. As I break the proverbial champagne bottle across the bow of their formal name, let’s also acknowledge why they are important.

Six years ago, a Gensler study noted that the “office workspace is evolving from a heads-down environment to one that highlights a collaborative, social context for work—and offers choice and flexibility.” Then Fast Company cut right to the chase: “It’s casually interacting with our colleagues that makes us happiest at work.”

Two men sitting a social space at work

I think social spaces are becoming so important due to the conflict between private offices and open plans. Today, collaborative work accounts for the same proportion of time as individual computer work. The fact is this: You need space to do both. We know involving others is quite important to move creative ideas toward innovation. We need others to test out our own ideas and build upon theirs. For creativity and innovation to flourish, employers should protect employees’ ability to focus and encourage restorative behaviors in the workplace. Social spaces offer inspiration in an open plan and an area to collaborate outside of private offices.

What is your reaction to a meeting invitation where the subject is “brainstorming?” It’s highly likely that Post-it pads and whiteboards, along with some sort of sugary food, are involved. I am willing to bet that your gut reaction is 50/50—you know that the meeting has a 50 percent chance of getting to a good idea that may be somewhat related to the originally goal. You also know that the meeting has a 50 percent chance of being a complete waste of time. It’s more likely that you will have a productive idea when doing things that can promote inspiration, such as dining with a group, taking an architectural tour, or attending a performance.

While social spaces can’t meet all those needs, they can set the stage for brainstorming conversation to occur naturally. With these spaces, team members are encouraged to span boundaries across an organization with other groups at different times of the creative process. They also need more relaxed environments after structured brainstorming sessions to encourage more spontaneous conversation.

Social spaces can have a significant impact on why people come to the office. We can all work from home, a coffee shop, a hotel, or even our car. But, we don’t get to interact with teams in those spaces. Sure, I can email, text, call, IM, Yammer, tweet, and ping—but I can’t walk over to someone and talk face-to-face. Or, pass them in the hallway for a fortuitous conversation. We are social creatures by nature and, as noted by Entrepreneur.com, we’re not gathering around the water cooler anymore. With the growing trend of remote work and virtual communication, people are getting lonely.

Social spaces exist so you can work in a setting that is open to collaborating with people who can inspire you. Given the right places, spaces, and tools for the creative rhythm of innovation, people can be free to do what they need to do to best create and innovate. When we are free to create and innovate, good things happen—for all of us.
 

See how you can create environments that support social spaces

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