Gone are the days of the office cubicle. Mobile devices and ubiquitous Internet connectivity have driven out partitions and wall panels, and ushered in a new era of the collaborative workspace. As companies redesign their offices for collaboration, they face a dizzying array of options. The key to creating collaborative workspaces, according to Polycom’s Amy Barzdukas, is to start with your people.

Given the mobile, always-on nature of today’s workforce, it helps to stand back and consider the purpose of the workspace. For most companies, real estate is their second largest operating expense, and it behooves them to control or reduce facilities costs. That begs the question: Why do we need an office at all if today’s employees can work from anywhere?

Quite simply, we need a place to collaborate. That’s fundamentally why people go to the office. When optimized for collaboration, the office can better support and drive productivity of companies’ largest expenditure: their people. According to Barzdukas, Polycom’s vice president, global solutions marketing, an average of 50% or more of operating expenses go towards people.

“If you’re pouring all that money into people, you want to make sure you’re providing the right technology and right environment to help them be their most successful,” she said during the webcast, Collaborative Workspaces That Work.

People are central to collaboration, so efforts to create collaborative workspaces should start with them. “Think about how you wire the employee, not the facility,” Barzdukas said. “Think about the people, and how and where they work.”

According to Barzdukas, there are three types of collaboration:

  • Informative collaboration involves the sharing of information, such as team members providing updates.
  • Evaluative collaboration entails consideration of content and decision-making.
  • Generative is the most complex type of collaboration. It entails building on existing content to create new solutions.

Once you determine how folks collaborate, you can consider the type of space they need and, in turn, the tools they need to collaborate. In any space, what you’re trying to prevent and avoid is presence disparity – that phenomenon when participants experience a meeting differently, usually because they’re not physically present.

Take, for example, a shared workspace for employees who come and go on a regular basis. This type of workspace tends to be dynamic and flexible, and supports independent generative work as well as ad hoc collaboration. It also tends to be noisy.

Several different types of collaboration solutions can be useful for the people using this workspace. Personal collaboration solutions that work on a mobile device can enable anytime, anywhere video collaboration and content sharing, while laptop solutions offer the added benefit of noise block technology and acoustic fencing to cancel out background noise.

The people using this workspace also need a way to collaborate with each other and with those who may not be in the office. This can be achieved via a huddle room. These small spaces necessitate a collaboration solution that enables a few people to see and hear each other – whether they’re in the office or not – and easily share content.

Compare this workspace to the traditional conference room, which is a fixed environment that serves multiple purposes. People throughout the organization use these workspaces for scheduled collaboration. They bring in their laptops or tablets, and use a conference phone for evaluative and informative collaboration.

The collaborative solution for this environment should make it easy to schedule and launch a meeting. Multiple microphones can help ensure that everyone can be heard, while sophisticated video technology focuses on the speaker rather than the room at large. Video also allows each participant to see everyone else on the call – regardless of their location – so they can gauge their reaction to comments and ideas. Noise cancelling technology can mute background sounds like a dog barking from a remote caller’s location or someone typing on a keyboard.

Together, these features and capabilities help ensure that everyone participating in the meeting can use the time productively. No matter what the collaborative environment is designed for, the people in them should be focused on the topic, rather than wasting time messing with the technology or dealing with distractions.

While various workspaces require different collaborative solutions based on what people are trying to achieve, the solutions should all enable people to not only hear each other, but also see each other and share content. “At the end of the day, the ability to see and hear and feed content all at the same time is simply more productive than sitting at the end of a phone. Bringing people together is what drives collaboration,” Barzdukas said.