5 creative office designs boosting collaboration at top tech companies

April 28, 20165 Minute Read

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Cubicles are rapidly going the way of the hoverboard—out of style and up in flames. Scrappy startups and enterprise giants alike are throwing out traditional ideas of what offices look like and going more modern, replacing them with the creative office designs that foster collaboration. Why? Because mountains of research show that collaboration drives productivity, creativity, and innovation. Studies from Nielsen and Frost & Sullivan have found that collaboration drives good ideas and company performance, respectively.

Today’s most successful, innovative businesses recognize the connection between office design and collaboration. In this brave new world, there are no rules—just a dedication to creating spaces in which people actually enjoy working. Let’s take a look at the five creative office designs transforming the way people work.


Google workers in a lounge in the Mountain View headquarters

Image source: Google

Google tops the best creative office design list. From its earliest days, Google has proclaimed its goal “to create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world.” The company’s office is known for being wacky, open, and filled with everything an employee could possibly need (i.e. on-premise haircuts).

All these perks, as well as the architecture and design of the office, are designed to cultivate a casual atmosphere engineered to maximize “casual collisions of the workforce.” The layout of bent rectangles means no employee is ever more than a short walk away from another or more than 150 feet from food. Common spaces, like snack kitchens, provide ample opportunity for employees to collide, probably over organic gummy bears

Google rigorously tracks the impact of these workplace features through “people analytics,” which analyze leadership, performance, retention, and more. Google even tracks the time that employees spend in lines at its cafes to maximize collaboration. As a result of these efforts, Google consistently ranks as one of the best places to work for in the world, and the appreciation of its stock has broken records.


Pixar Animation Studios Atrium

Image source: Jason Pratt, Flickr

In 1999, Steve Jobs redesigned Pixar’s offices to inspire as much serendipity and as many “unplanned collaborations” as possible. He brought all the teams—computer scientists, animators, executives, and editors—together in one building with a central atrium. The atrium enabled employees from different disciplines to cross-pollinate and have conversations that may not otherwise have happened.

Many of the offices in Pixar’s building are arranged in U-shaped units, consisting of five to six individual offices around a central common area. Every employee has their own space, decked out with all the tech they need, enabling them to efficiently get their work done while also engaging easily with their teammates.

In addition, the Pixar campus has an amphitheater, gardens, a pool, sports courts, and more that encourage employees to be active, and research from Stanford indicates that creative thinking improves when people are moving around. Pixar, with all its outdoor space, is the perfect place to hold walking meetings, which Jobs famously swore by.


Facebook rooftop garden image

Image source: Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg is another known devotee of the walking meeting, so it’s no surprise that Facebook’s new, 430,000-square-feet Menlo Park complex includes a rooftop garden with a half-mile walking loop. In a Facebok post, Zuckerberg wrote that his aim with the “largest open floor plan in the world” was to create a sense of community and connection.

Facebook’s office designs is effective because it strikes a balance between openness and privacy. While open floor plans have become standard for most tech companies, research shows that too much openness can make it hard to get work done. To strike this balance, Facebook’s office is filled with nooks and crannies where employees can find quiet places to collaborate. The company also installed touch screens called Wayfinders that help employees find their coworkers in the vast space, and wires hang from the ceilings so as not to obstruct the path of anyone who may be walking by.


Ping Pong Cloud at Airbnb San Francisco

Image source: Nan Palmero, Flickr

Airbnb’s new San Francisco office is designed with homeyness at its core, with a library, a “nerd cave,” and even places to take naps. While the work space is laid out in open floor plans, the office has eight private meeting rooms that are exact replicas of noteworthy Airbnb listings around the world, as well as scores of smaller private spaces, such as “camping meeting rooms” that resemble tents. Next thing you know, they’ll install fire pits for s’mores.

All these meeting spaces are essential to fostering collaboration. Nooks and breakout rooms near common areas give employees who have chance encounters places to continue their conversation. Moreover, Airbnb employees are encouraged to switch teams and/or contribute to areas beyond the scope of their team when it suits their interests. To this end, Airbnb has created a “belong anywhere working environment,” meaning all work spaces and IT setups can easily adapt to employees who move around a lot.

The company’s approach is succeeding. Engagement scores show that 90 percent of Airbnb employees recommend Airbnb as a great place to work, and last summer, Airbnb’s growth was 353 times what it was five years ago.


Cisco empire, San Jose

Image source: Leon G, Flickr

When Cisco set out to redesign its office, its goal was to make the workplace highly collaborative and connected. Meeting rooms were often in short supply, but offices and cubicles remained vacant 65 percent of the time. To address this issue, Cisco designed an office around shared work spaces, rather than assigning employees to desks based on titles. The floor plan had spaces for planned and spontaneous meetings, which accommodated a range of working styles.

Furthermore, to encourage mobility, Cisco knew that going wireless was key. The company added wired jacks and individual workstations equipped with desktop accessories so employees could literally work anywhere. Without the right IT in place, the vision of shared workstations would never succeed. Cisco measured the impact of this new work space and found that their more collaborative office design led to greater employee satisfaction, effectiveness, and efficiency.

Office space isn’t just an asset or a perk, but a “strategic tool for growth.” It creates an environment where every employee is able to create, connect, and thrive.

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