Rethinking Collaboration in the Next Generation Workplace


Technology change does not occur in a vacuum, and this is becoming evident as enterprises struggle to realize anticipated results after making costly investments in collaboration solutions. While today’s applications truly are exciting, it’s easy to overlook how important the workplace environment is for their success. The context in which a collaboration solution is deployed really matters, as a holistic approach is needed to ensure that the right technologies are deployed in the right way to meet today’s workplace needs.

Understanding the Next Generation Workplace

At Yorktel, we have long focused on this approach, and through continuous research with our customers, have framed these challenges around what we call the Next Generation Workplace. To support this environment, our view is that collaboration must be purposefully applied to workflows and business processes. Time and again, we have learned that it’s not enough to simply roll out UC to everyone and install video monitors in meeting rooms. To get this right, enterprises must understand the workplace environment and make sure that it aligns with how employees work and collaborate.

Those in the field of office space design give this a great deal of thought, and we have seen both ends of the spectrum deliver mixed results. Prior to the Internet age, American workplaces were highly atomized with an emphasis on private spaces over open, shared spaces. This was a time when information was held mostly by departmentalized subject matter experts, moved slowly and its control was a key lever of power. On all these counts, the Internet enabled the polar opposite, and triggered a revolution in how information was managed and how people collaborated.

This change was reflected on the design front as workspaces became more open, with fewer closed offices and more meeting spaces. Another driver was cost savings, as this model allowed enterprises to pack more employees in less space. While this approach does satisfy some changing workplace needs – and financial objectives - there have been tradeoffs indicating that things could still be better. To illustrate, consider this excerpt from a recent Harvard Business Review article:

“Organizations responded by shifting their real estate allocation toward open spaces that support collaboration and shrinking areas for individual work. But the pendulum may have swung too far:  our research now suggests that, once again, people feel a pressing need for more privacy, not only to do heads-down work but to cope with the intensity of how work happens today.”

Open Design alone is not the answer

There are unintended consequences here, as the move to more open spaces may ultimately make employees less productive. Clearly, there are times when closed, private spaces are needed to get work done, as well as others where the opposite is needed. This is where our view of the Next Generation Workplace comes into play, as enterprises need to recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach to office design will not suffice in 2017.  Today’s mobile, always-on work style has given rise to a user-defined approach to collaboration, and given the flexibility of the cloud, this takes many forms. By taking a similarly flexible approach to office design, enterprises can support the full spectrum of work styles, and with that, realize full value from their investment in collaboration technology.

To better visualize this flexible approach, here are four distinct types of workspaces we have identified from our customer research. If your objectives include improving organizational agility, personal productivity and team-based performance, these merit consideration as you plan for 2017.

Next generation workspace No. 1 – Collaboration Rooms

This would be the most familiar group-based workspace, but two forms need to be considered. First would be the traditional meeting space, usually a boardroom or conference room. These work well for larger groups, especially when including remote participants, either with audio or video linkages. Immersive video provides the most engaging experience, but these systems are costly and not widely deployed.

At one time, this was the only option for collaboration, but with today’s technology, other spaces are equally viable. This brings us to the second form, namely huddle rooms. These have become popular because they’re ideal for small teams, are not costly to build, and give employees more flexibility in terms of how they work as a team.

A common element here is the need for team-based communication platforms as opposed to conferencing applications that use video. The latter is great for real-time communication or conversation that demands more engagement than a phone call. Collaboration rooms, however, serve a very different need, where video is just one mode of engagement, and participants will be doing other things as well, such as file sharing, white boarding and messaging.

Next generation workspace No. 2 – Collaborative Spaces

Being purpose-built, collaboration rooms have great utility, but don’t address all modes of working in teams. Conventional modes tend to be structured and scheduled, but in the Next Generation Workplace, there’s a growing need to support unstructured, ad hoc collaboration. With the rise of BYOD and cloud-based platforms, employees can work in teams when the need arises using their own endpoints. They just need a place, and that’s what collaborative spaces serve to support. Progressive enterprises now offer a range of open spaces such as lounges or quiet corners where small groups can gather, connect via Wi-Fi and work together on the fly.

Next generation workspace No. 3 – Privacy Rooms

Loss of privacy is the biggest tradeoff when moving to an open office environment, and it’s unrealistic for employees to work at peak level this way over time. While employees have many options for private communication using their personal devices, this is just one element of privacy. Personal privacy can be highly subjective, but there are times when, employees need to have access to private spaces, even if just for occasional needs.

Aside from providing a space for personal situations, privacy rooms can also facilitate project work. There are many scenarios where employees need to have private conversations or intense communication while working with a team that simply wouldn’t be practical in an open office setting.

Privacy rooms represent a key contrast to collaboration rooms in terms of aligning the technology with the purpose of the space. Whereas the latter supports deeper multimedia engagement for project work, privacy rooms are designed for direct, personal communication. In this scenario, the need for privacy will drive design considerations over the need to support an interactive group where a lot of real-time information is being openly passed back and forth.

Next generation workspace No. 4 – Quiet Spaces

Whereas the first two workspaces provide a range of environments for collaboration, employees don’t work exclusively in teams, and will also need time and space for heads-down work. This is a key challenge created by open workspaces, as the constant flow of movement and noise around us is too distracting when concentration is needed. As such, the Next Generation Workplace must accommodate the needs of both groups and individuals. For the latter, this means designating quiet areas where employees can move away from the din of open spaces, much like when being in a library.


Collaboration is a multi-faceted concept, and these four types of workspaces indicate the complexity of needs that enterprises have to support. Technology alone is not the answer, nor is it enough just to have an open concept office and expect everyone to thrive in the hive. Balance is needed, and that’s a key lesson learned from our Next Generation Workplace research.

For employees to be at their best, they need both open spaces for access to co-workers, as well as private spaces for personal productivity. To achieve that outcome, enterprises must consider a mix of workspaces, and move away from the singular model of being all-open or all-closed. Each has its merits, but with today’s technologies, both can be supported.

You need the right technology to support all this, but equally important is the need to properly assess the mix of work styles across your organization. With this being a new approach, most businesses lack the expertise needed, and having a professional assessment will be money well-spent. This is the best way to determine the balance you’ll need across these four types of work spaces, and in my view, having that in place is the best formula for success with collaboration.

If this is a topic you’re interested in hearing more about, come check out the panel “Digital Transformation: Are You Using the Right Tools to Collaborate?,” held Friday, Feb. 10 at 9 a.m. at ITEXPO. Vishal Brown will be offering some valuable insights on this topic during the panel, and there are many more opportunities to learn at the various sessions taking place at ITEXPO, held Feb. 8-10 in Fort Lauderdale, FL. See you there!

Edited by Alicia Young
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