During the late 1940s, sociologist Kurt Back and psychologists Leon Festinger and Stanley Schachter collectively explored the ways in which friendships were formed. They wanted to know why some strangers became fast friends while others struggled to get past basic small talk. According to their research, physical space was essential for creating new friendships, determining that ‘friendships are likely to develop on the basis of brief and passive contacts.’ According to this logic, bonds are built simply by passing the same people in the same places every day. So how does this translate to work life?
For most extroverts, making friends in the office comes naturally. But more often than not, the introverts and ambiverts rely on accidental interactions and proximity to build a relationship over time. Having an office that is designed to promote collaboration and social interaction is often the key to forging a lasting friendship that transcends the boundaries of the office environment.
Let’s be honest, the era of the cubicle and the hierarchical office plan is essentially a thing of the past. These days, more companies are embracing open-plan offices with multiple common areas and purpose-built ‘thinking’ spaces that encourage workers to be creative in a collective rather than in a silo.
Offices with a diversity of smart working spaces (break-out areas, creative hubs, tea points, in-house cafés, etc.) allow people the flexibility to leave their desks and have these accidental interactions with their co-workers. They empower staff through trust and autonomy, encouraging them to work according to their personality type, their mood and the type of work they are focusing on. By doing this, you free people from their desks and allow them to discover new places to work in proximity to potential new friends.
At JustGiving’s London office, the staff are encouraged to move around and work in whatever environment suits their workload, which gives them the freedom to do their work while also being encouraged to interact with colleagues and find inspiration as part of a team.
There’s no denying that the best conversations and workplace parties take place in the kitchen breakout area, which is why the office tea point is such a vital aspect of the workplace ecosystem. Having a place to cut birthday cakes and celebrate business milestones and holidays helps create a positive atmosphere and gives people an excuse to interact with one another during the work day.
Whether your tea point is an agile space for lunches, meetings or working away from your desk like at Fetch, or it doubles as a cocktail bar for client events like at Ragged Edge, the most important factor is that people are comfortable and inspired to build those friendships over a morning cup of tea (or a cheeky afterwork cocktail).
Of course, providing your staff with those social events is just as important as having the proper space to host them in. Every year, we conduct a happy office survey, examining the different elements that contribute to a positive workspace. In 2016, out of 600 people surveyed, 91% said they valued the friendships that were made in the workplace, believing that staff bonding was directly influenced by social events, open plan offices and comfortable communal spaces.
Having the right office environment for after work drinks, summer BBQs and team lunches is essential in promoting those workplace friendships and allowing those accidental interactions to happen. By holding a large event that gets the team together, you’re reminding people that they’re part of a work community. It’s also a great way for your employees to learn more about their co-workers’ responsibilities and develop new perspectives about the different jobs roles in the company.
And who knows – maybe that’s the place where the office introverts feel comfortable enough to have meaningful conversations with their colleagues.
Want to know more about how your office space can promote positive interactions and productive collaboration? Get in touch.
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