Chance meetings: The impact of the office layout

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Creasing chance meeting with a layout encouraging 'bumping into' one another

While it is not always actively considered, office layout can play a large role in shaping office life. You are likely to get to know colleagues that you are located physically close to much better than colleagues in a distant part of the firm that you rarely visit.

A large part of this comes from physically running into people – you see them in the corridors, you see them in the cafeteria, you see them at the water cooler. Although it is possible to dismiss these interactions as insignificant, they can play various important roles within the office environment. 

Opportunities that come from chance meetings

Cross-functional sharing of ideas​

One of the key benefits of chance interactions is that it allows ideas from different functional areas to be shared. While it is common to develop close relationships with individuals that you directly work with, interactions with individuals outside of your direct functional area often a lot harder to develop.

Chance meetings provide opportunities to start to expand your network outside colleagues with whom you directly work – helping create alignment and consistency between different areas of the firm. 

Building interpersonal trust

Another benefit that comes from chance meetings, and getting to know colleges from different parts of the firm on a social level, is that it can help build interpersonal trust. If you know people you may be more willing to share ideas or offer advice.

Shaping the company culture

A final benefit that can come from random meetings is that it can help form an organizational culture – with everyone knowing everyone else within the firm. Rather than having silos, with different departments not speaking to one another, chance meetings can encourage a unified ‘company culture’. 

Opportunities for creating chance-meetings

Open office plans

Open-plan offices can help facilitate chance meetings. It is a lot easier to see colleagues and say ‘hi’ when walking through the office. Seeing people helps establish the initial social relationships that can then create opportunities for further ideas to be discussed. 

Dispersing functional areas throughout the office

Another opportunity for encouraging ‘random’ meetings is to disperse functional areas throughout the office. Rather than having accounting in one corner, software in another, and marketing in a different building, disperse the various roles throughout the firm.

Dispersing the roles can force people to both interact with different areas where they are physically located, and also come into contact with other individuals when walking to meet a colleague within a functional role at a different part of the firm. 

Central or crossing corridors

Another possibility for encouraging interactions is to have central corridors that everyone must walk through – potentially crossing at a central point to force people to walk past one another. Central focal points can help ensure everyone has opportunities for chance interactions with everyone else in the firm. 

Hot-desking

Hot-desking is another possible way of increasing chance meetings between employees. Using shared desks, where employees take whatever desk happens to be free, can help mix employees. Since each day you will likely be sat next to different employees, you will come into contact with a much larger number of people – each presenting opportunities for chance meetings. 

Shared spaces

A final way of helping to facilitate random interactions is to have shared spaces – potentially open areas where employees are able to work. Having a space that allows more extended conversations than is typical in an office environment can provide opportunities for individuals to get to know each other better. 

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