By Nai Kanell
Director of Marketing

As workplaces abandon offices and cubicles, there’s no clear way to define what those spaces should embody. Should you invest in a benching concept, seating everyone side by side? Is hot desking or hoteling the way to go? For many companies, the answer lies somewhere in-between: a collaborative workspace design.

Collaborative workplaces marry the concept of an open-air design to the benefits of flexible workspaces. They give people a chance to move beyond desks and work together outside of a stuffy conference room. Designed right, collaborative workspace is a benefit and can fuel some of the best ideas and most productive teamwork in the office. Take a look at some of the top collaborative workspace trends and why they’re worth considering.

1. Say no to walls

Technically, a conference room is a collaborative space. People come together to talk about a topic and voice their unique ideas. But can you truly be collaborative in a space as restrictive as a conference room? Not likely. It’s not a stimulating setting and there’s little flexibility to sitting idly around a long table.

Modern collaborative office layouts look at the core elements defining team-focused spaces. Above all else, that means tearing down walls and letting people collaborate outside the box—literally and figuratively. The standard conference room or group workspace has shifted to an open-air, blended-style environment. Often, these spaces offer adaptable design and are centrally located to promote use. Think comfortable furniture arranged in a makeshift nook.

Walls keep people out. If you want people to come together, remove the physical barriers and make it easy for them to meet face-to-face.

2. Decentralize down to the furniture

One of the great values of collaboration is that it bucks natural order. Collaboration emphasizes freeform thoughts from multiple, unique perspectives—not linear thinking from the top down. A collaborative environment needs to reflect this. One of the simplest ways to incite individual participation is to remove subconscious constructs, like standard furniture arrangements.

Think of a conference table. Who sits at the head? Chances are, the team leader, which automatically creates a hierarchy in the room. Now, make that table round. There’s less hierarchy, but still rigid structure. The solution? Adopt a non-traditional, decentralized furniture layout. Mix bean bag chairs and couches. Scatter chairs throughout the room in no real order. Do whatever it takes to create comfort and shed implied hierarchy. This sends a message of equality and encourages everyone to confidently share ideas.

3. Kick back, relax, and collaborate openly

Experiential concepts have taken over collaborative workplace design, and for good reason. People tend to do their best work when it doesn’t feel like work. They’re prone to free-flowing ideas and nonconformist thinking when put in a stress-free environment. Deliver an experience and you’ll be rewarded with great ideas.

Experiential spaces vary greatly. Many companies broach the concept in a familiar way—create coffee lounges or rec rooms. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. An experiential space can take the form of any theme, so long as it brings people together and encourages collaboration. Some examples: art rooms with painting and pottery; zen gardens with flora and calming music; library-style rooms that stoke the fires of intellectualism. Provide an oasis from work and be amazed at how much work gets done!

4. Decorate for engagement and focus

Whitewashed walls and fluorescent lighting aren’t just bad for creativity—they’re soul-sucking. A drab office won’t inspire good ideas, even when multiple people collaborate on them. That’s why a core component of modern workspace design is engaging décor—especially in collaborative workspaces.

It’s easy to catch a spark of inspiration or ruminate on an idea when surrounded by vibrant colors, musing textures, and general eccentricities. Decorate with a flair for the creative and reap the returns of inspired brainstorming. Engaging décor can boost creativity. There’s a reason the world’s largest, most successful companies, like Google, have invested so much stock in interior design. Color, texture, depth, perspective, and oddities are all great backdrops for collaboration.

5. Integrate tech seamlessly

Collaborative workspaces foster face-to-face communication, but that doesn’t mean tech doesn’t play a role. Interactive areas need a tech touch as much as any other part of the modern workplace. The difference is that tech isn’t necessarily a focal point in a collaborative space—rather, a complement to the human element.

There are simple, effective ways to bring tech into a space without disrupting collaboration. For starters, going wireless keeps people from getting distracted by having to plug in or dodge cords. Tech-on-demand is also important in these spaces—TVs, tablets, smartboards, and projectors all play a role in helping teams visualize their ideas.

6. Give employees a place to collaborate

Fostering collaboration should be a priority for every business. Free-flowing ideas and teamwork require the right kinds of workspaces. Keep these trends in mind when designing your collaborative workspaces and give your team every opportunity to come together in flexible, stimulating, and accommodating environments.

Keep reading: Collaborative Workspace Software Features.