20 Ways to physically structure your office for collaboration



Structure influences behaviour. How we design and build our offices will influence the way we work together. I just finished community expert Peter Block’s book Community: The Structure of Belonging. Combining some of the ideas presented in his book, along with a few other sources (also noted in this post), I thought it would be interesting to start a list of design requirements for an office that encourages collaboration. Here goes:

Design that makes you feel you are welcome here and that you came to the right place:

1.Reception areas that play up welcoming and hospitality (as would a good hotel, restaurant, bar) and play down security.

2.Meeting rooms designed with nature, art, conviviality, and person-to-person interaction in mind.

3.Large communal spaces (e.g., cafeteria) for people to gather, and that have an intimate community feel.

4.Walls that have life.  An empty wall is a testimony to the insignificance of the human spirit.

5.Lots of light and windows; a view reminds us of our connection to the outer, larger world, and why what we’re doing is important.


Design that encourages connectedness, relatedness:

6.Having people on one level to increases interaction and collaboration (versus people spread out on different floors and/or buildings).

7.Rooms that allow people to sit in circles (without a table in front of them). I’m a big fan of circles as you can read here.

8.Round tables (the shape of communion), and the smaller the better .

9.Chairs with wheels and swivels promote mobility and relatedness with others in the room.

10.Glass surfaces that may be written on with write-on/wipe-off markers for instant brainstorming.  Check out this YouTube video – Microsoft’s 2019 Future Vision Montage: Envisioning the Future to get the idea.

11. Technologies that enable collaboration, both within the actual office and remotely; e.g., as in this Cisco case study.


Design that accommodates different work styles and meeting needs:

12.Visitor stations: Designated areas offer wide-angle, 120-degree desks for visiting staff to spread out.

13.Cul de sacs:  Shared open spaces for planned or impromptu meetings at the end of each corridor and that are available on a nonreserved basis.

14.Teaming rooms: Each floor would have meeting spaces for groups of between three and eight people. Small is good – Small groups are the units of transformation.

15.Iso pods: Small, enclosed isolation spaces that can accommodate one or two people for private or proprietary-information work.

16.Atrium entry: An open atrium lobby with a glass roof lets light in on every floor, and makes a great way to assemble for all-hands meetings by gathering in the lobby or along balcony edges.

17.Mixer coffee stations: Rather than housing the coffee machine and refrigerator in an enclosed room, open mixing areas provide counter seating and allow employees and visitors to rub elbows while pouring a cup of java or waiting for a meeting to start.

18.Situation rooms: Many teams involved on high-priority projects need near-constant interaction. Why not situation rooms which can be created to fit a team of any size using moveable floor-to-ceiling glass walls. The rooms would house a combination of collaborative workspaces and individual workstations, as well as write-on/wipe-off walls, mobile storage, sofas, and common tables for team huddles.   (Thanks to a Biznet article by Jane Hodges for some of the above ideas).

19.Hallways wide enough for intimate seating and casual contact (and maybe some local staff/artists works on the wall as a bonus!).

20.Cubicles that make sense. See this related Wikinomics article about cubicle and workspace design.

What other requirements would you add to this list?

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Photo credit: Copleys


  1. It looks like you are getting into architecture. This is good stuff. have you read ‘pattern language’ by alexander?

  2. Martin, glad you approve of the post. I haven’t read Alexander’s book. I will though add it to my reading “to do” list.

  3. Big And Tall Office Chairs says

    Thank for information.

  4. I compleatly agree with all of those ideas. I really think the idea of small non reserved spaces for quick meetings is great. We don’t have that where I work.

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