How Office Furniture Can Encourage Random Encounters

Ever have a random encounter with a co-worker in your office (no, not that kind…we’re pretty sure there’s a company policy against those sorts of shenanigans) that resulted in a great idea?

Maybe a conversation about a funny TV commercial in the breakroom led to a fun new marketing campaign or during some ranting about the time-intensive process for handling inventory, you came up with an improved method.

Increasingly, offices are catching on to the fact that cubicles aren’t necessarily where new ideas and collaboration are born and are trying to capitalize on these casual interactions between employees. To spur more workplace interaction and exchanges beyond the water cooler, designers are incorporating makeshift meeting areas throughout the office where employees can gather spontaneously.

The way your office is designed and furnished is critical to encouraging more idea-sharing among your employees and inspiring creative thinking. Here are some ways to spark such random encounters in your business:

Lower (or get rid of) walls:
On a metaphorical level, tall cubicle walls and closed office doors tend to block the free-flow of ideas. On a practical level, it’s just not easy to have a conversation with someone working in a cubby. Using workspaces with low walls or no walls at all allows employees to overhear each other’s conversations, making everyone more aware about what each other is working on and opening up opportunities for sharing information and troubleshooting problems.

Use versatile, easy-to-move pieces:

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It’s easy enough for two employees to have a quick meeting at a desk. One just rolls his chair over to the other. However, if more than two people need to meet, well, a little more space might be needed. To facilitate flash meetings, offer employees light-weight chairs, tables and whiteboards that can be moved around without breaking a sweat (bonus points if they have wheels!). In addition to creating pieces with power outlets, Knoll’s Activity Space line includes a signature desk-chair hybrid. It’s sort of like a re-imagined school desk called the Toboggan. This piece is lightweight, easy to move around, allows users to sit in a variety of positions and offers a spot to rest notebooks or tablets.

Power up:
The great thing about smartphones, tablets and laptops are that they enable employees to do work just about anywhere (in the office, on the road and at home) without having to be tethered to a desk. Of course, there’s one thing they’ll need to be tethered to eventually: An electrical outlet. Help employees keep the ideas flowing by giving them places to power up throughout the office, including in informal meeting areas. Office designers have caught on to the importance of on-call power sources. Knoll recently released a line called Activity Space which includes pieces like a stainless steel poles, rolling white boards and small tables, all which have built-in outlets.

Offer writing surfaces:
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All those great ideas won’t go anywhere if nobody can remember them. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, one way Silicon Valley-based tech company Citrix helps designers out is to leave whiteboards, stacks of paper and markers around the office for access whenever a lightbulb turns on. Even some of the tables are whiteboards, creating a quick canvas for thoughts, questions and ideas. Other companies make sure that entire walls in conference rooms are chalkboards or whiteboards. Facebook famously has a wall devoted to signatures ala the wall on Facebook user’s pages.

Make it comfortable:
While you don’t want to make the chairs and couches so comfortable that your employees take a nap on them, you also want to make sure they’re comfortable enough that employees are willing to stick around long enough to solve problems and come up with exciting new concepts.

Make it fun:
There’s no killer of creativity quite like some a dimly lit, dark office with a sad fern in the corner. Take a page from the likes of Google, Pixar and Facebook and make your office fun. Use pops of bright colors, modern furniture, natural light and surprising touches (think beanbag chairs or nods to pop culture) to inspire your employees.

Photo courtesy of Knoll
Photo courtesy of 
Pasukaru76/Flickr

Find all the office furniture you need to encourage random encounters at Arnolds Office Furniture.

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