I am guilty of contributing to the rise of what Susan Cain calls the New Groupthink. I have clients do exercises in “table groups.” I conduct brainstorming sessions. I observe companies creating tiny, open “collaborative” workspaces. They build on the concept with flexible workspaces – the kind where the employee gets a rolling cart and choses a new space each day.
Are these suddenly outdated? No. Research shows that people are happy in a workplace where they have friends, a trusting atmosphere, and a free exchange of ideas. But, research supports the other side of the equation too: the need for personal space to work in quiet and solitude.
Privacy and uninterrupted time allow for learning and creating new ideas. The freedom of space and time allows our brains to quiet and focus on the one task at hand. IPNB tells us that autonomy motivates and stimulates creative thinking. Cain quotes organizational psychologist, Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.” Companies who offer employees private space benefit from increased quality and quantity of work.
The counterintuitive evidence in the research is that people who collaborate remotely outperform other teams. While more research is needed, the hypothesis is that the electronic distance allows us to be “together alone.”
There is a balance: a need for interaction and idea exchange – and – a need for privacy and uninterrupted time to think. I’m considering how I structure my engagements, classroom, and work time.
What ideas does this stir for you?
(Note: Blogs fit into the “together alone” category!)