The power of collaboration

According to a WSJ article this morning firms are starting to use sensors to track what employees are doing to provide clues as to how they work and how they could work better. This isn’t simple old fashioned time and motion, however. The WSJ suggests what companies are really concerned about is that employees aren’t spending enough time together and this is impacting on productivity.  The article cites a Bank of Amercia study which showed productivity increased sharply when workers spent time together:

The data showed that the most productive workers belonged to close-knit teams and spoke frequently with their colleagues

Interestingly Marissa Meyer, the ex-Google ceo of Yahoo recently announced she was recalling homeworkers at Yahoo to the company’s offices to improve productivity and innovation. “Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices” said the HR memo which announced that home working employees should relocate to a Yahoo office by June or look for another job.

This focus on collaboration and interaction as a source of competitive advantage was brought home to me recently when I visited Google’s offices near Centrepoint in London.

One of the collaboration spaces at Google’s office – picture: The Telegraph

The office was built around four types of space that I could see:

  1. Workspace – basically pretty functional bench-style desks similar to those you would find in most tech companies
  2. Collaboration space – quiky, comfortable rooms (see picture); meeting rooms of all shapes and sizes, each kitted out with large LCD screens; pods for smaller groups; single-person pods for employees to have video calls with remote colleagues
  3. Recreation space such as restaurants and gyms (free, of course) 
  4. Personal space – quiet areas like the library (pictured) which facilitate concentration 

Clearly a lot of thought has gone into optimising the building for different types of needs. But the prevailing impression is one of collaboration – lots and lots of face time, in person on by Google Hangout.

Google’s library – quiet space for lone concentration – picture: The Telegraph

The WSJ article cites other examples of studies which demonstrate a clear correlation with social interaction and productivity. Marissa Meyer came from Google, so perhaps no surprise that she places so much value on employee face time.

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