Psychology of Collaboration – a talk from Herman Miller

Last night the CCD team attended a talk at Herman Miller on the Psychology of Collaboration as part of Clerkenwell Design Week.  The talk was based on research Herman Miller commissioned with Nigel Oseland.

There was some interesting evidence on how poor many people see their workspace as supporting the work they are trying to do – around half of people think their workspaces is inappropriate. This was particularly relevant to how people interact and collaborate.  In the intersection between organisational culture, technology and space, the design of the environment seems to be ignored in many companies.

How many companies really think about personality types across their teams when they are commissioning a new workspace? The much viewed TED talk from Susan Cain on the power of the introvert was a great demonstration of how most working environments, especially those designed to encourage collaboration, are done with the extrovert in mind: this instantly creates a space that will be uncomfortable for, on average, half of the people working there (is this the same half that are complaining about their inappropriate workspace?).

There were also some good insights in the talk on distraction and disturbance on the workplace. Both technology and the work environment are providing more and more sources of distraction. Technology from email, to social media and collaboration tools like Slack interrupt our working days continuously.  This is on top of open work spaces that are designed to encourage interaction but do not provide space for people to escape and turn off when they need to: headphones are the modern ‘do not disturb’ sign.  The talk cited research that suggests in many workplaces, people are being interrupted on average every 15 minutes…yet we know from other research that when doing a focused task, it takes around 23 minutes to re-establish concentration.  The impact on productivity is understandably significant.


A final insight was around the value of simple, analogue communication tools – i.e. the basic whiteboard. We have this on a current project where a client is pushing for digital whiteboards but our argument is, to aid interactive working, nothing is better than a simple, traditional whiteboard. They are easy to use and provide an instant, accessible space to work. They are great for the extroverts to be able to express themselves; but also good for introverts to be able to absorb and process ideas (as long as they have a chance to feedback later on).

Collaboration areas in CERN's design office

Whiteboard areas in CERN’s design office designed by CCD



David Watts

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