In fact, a lot of startups and forward-thinking companies are designing their office spaces to reflect an increased emphasis on communication and collaboration, with open floor plans and shared workspaces. Of course, there should still be enclosed, private spaces for meetings or when employees need to really focus without distractions, but in general, the emphasis is on constant communication and collaboration, Lindquist says.
Facilitating communication and collaboration can be as simple as making small talk, says Eisenhauer, especially if you have a variety of personality types in your workplace. "Some people find it easy to work and collaborate with people they don't know. Others need a degree of shared personal interests for collaboration to be at its best. Getting to know someone before diving into complex tasks together can make a huge difference," he says.
Water cooler chats, coffee breaks and casual conversation not only improve engagement and productivity, they can also increase workers' interactions with senior level management and executives, and foster increased trust in and respect for company leadership, Eisenhauer says.
"If employees are afraid or hesitant to talk with their managers or with higher-level executives, your business will suffer. People are more likely to open up when the conversation is about personal interests and not about work-related details. Water cooler chat is ideal for people to get more comfortable with their managers," and company executives; they'll be more comfortable speaking up and making their voices heard, he says, and they'll trust that leadership will listen.
The bottom line? Don't be so quick to discourage these activities when you see them. If you're encouraging social interaction, communication and collaboration, employees will notice. They'll be more willing to trust you, to go the extra mile when needed and be more loyal to their employer. That respect will translate to greater engagement, increased collaboration and better productivity overall.
"Employees want workplaces where they can establish friendships, communicate and collaborate openly. If you want to retain your current employees and attract new talent, you almost have to double down on the social and collaborative aspects of the workforce. If you try and impose restrictions, they'll go find someplace else to work," Lindquist says.
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