There's an ever growing body of research which shows the current trend in office design, the open office, is a productivity killer, and perhaps counter-intuitively, also harms collaboration, see:
- A new study should be the final nail for open-plan offices
- New Harvard Study: Your Open-Plan Office Is Making Your Team Less Collaborative
- Open-Plan Offices Kill Productivity, According to Science
I hunted down one of the mentioned studies:
Organizations’ pursuit of increased workplace collaboration has led managers to transform traditional office spaces into ‘open’, transparency-enhancing architectures with fewer walls, doors and other spatial boundaries, yet there is scant direct empirical research on how human interaction patterns change as a result of these architectural changes. In two intervention-based field studies of corporate headquarters transitioning to more open office spaces, we empirically examined—using digital data from advanced wearable devices and from electronic communication servers—the effect of open office architectures on employees' face-to-face, email and instant messaging (IM) interaction patterns. Contrary to common belief, the volume of face-to-face interaction decreased significantly (approx. 70%) in both cases, with an associated increase in electronic interaction. In short, rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM. This is the first study to empirically measure both face-to-face and electronic interaction before and after the adoption of open office architecture. The results inform our understanding of the impact on human behaviour of workspaces that trend towards fewer spatial boundaries.
Keep in mind some of theses results may be affected by cultural factors, but they're still significant.
The current ongoing experiment in remote work is proving itself rather nicely, but there's one concern I keep hearing repeated: people miss the stochastic element of random conversations, half-heard fragments and other random cross-pollinating factors, which they feel negatively impact creativity and new ideas.
Since the water cooler is gone, and the only corridors left are in our homes, perhaps it would be a good idea to facilitate a sort of virtual water cooler, where employees could have the unstructured conversations necessary for this process to occur. It isn't a perfect replacement for face-to-face interactions, but perfect may be the enemy of good in this case.
A possible medium to facilitate this is persistent voice chat rooms with visible members, into which every member of the organization could just pop in and join an organic conversation.
I'd be interested to see people experiment with these options and how it affects an organization's productivity and creativity.