Collaboration is a key goal for almost every workplace, but you can’t achieve it without first fostering community. To do that—especially in work environments that increasingly host four generations of workers, many of whom have complex task profiles—we must first study the needs of the individual and how to meet them. From there, we can build up to meeting the needs of the entire team.
Great inspiration for this research can come from one particularly multipurpose and unifying item of furniture: the ubiquitous kitchen table. In our homes, this one object is the literal and figurative epicenter of activity for both individual and collaborative work. We don’t have different tables for each task we do; we just clear the surface off and start something else! Why does this method work, and work so easily?
Building on the basic hierarchy of human needs described by Abraham Maslow in the 1940s, modern psychologists have posited that spiritual and cultural values must be integrated into design to give individuals a sense of a space’s meaning and of “collective well-being”—a combination of social cohesion, a sense of community and rootedness, and the presence of enduring links to place.1 Collective well-being is a broad and essential goal of workplace design, but it’s not complicated to meet.
Within families, individuals feel a sense of shared values and a sense of rootedness; at our kitchen tables, we feel the presence of an enduring place, one we can rely on to support whatever work we’re doing, be it individual or group-based. We can translate this community-centric spatial model—this central activity hub for meeting, talking, learning, creating (and, of course, eating)—from the home to the workplace by providing employees with functional, multipurpose, group-sized amenities. Simple furnishings that are easy to transform radiate a sense of residential familiarity that can do wonders for engendering professional cooperation.
Studies show2 that when people share a table (especially for meals), a sense of community follows. While working or eating alone can feel alienating, sharing a common space while doing so is an almost inevitable unifier. Taking the building blocks of community—social ritual and multifunctionality—that we find embodied by our kitchen tables at home and bringing them into the workplace is simply a matter of putting human factors at the heart of our design thinking. Community-centric spatial layouts and easy to use, multipurpose furnishings encourage a sense of community that results in effective collaboration.
- Establishing and maintaining healthy environments: towards a social ecology of health promotion. American Psychologist, 47(1), 66-22.