The Role of Toilets and Elevators in Teamwork

A few weeks ago an article How Remote Work Could Destroy Silicon Valley exploded on Medium. People discussed what the tech universe loses if there is no special place for enthusiasts, geeks, venture investors and just people with their crazy ideas — where and when we’d find new Apple, new Tesla, or something that will change the world? We terribly underestimate the role of place! Did you know that the greatest companies even invest in engineering serendipity in the workplace?

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Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Steve Jobs was the first to talk about the importance of chance meetings and Pixar office was made so that people from different departments could meet as often as possible. Jobs insisted, that spontaneous meeting have a great influence on creativity and the birth of new ideas.

We decided to look deeper and found 12 hacks great companies used to produce serendipity in the workplace. Things that you will never notice actually play a great role in your productivity, relations with the members of the team.

How will we replace serendipity? The answer is below. But first, let’s take a look at how it’s made these days.

Only one coffee point for the whole office

That’s the easiest way to break the boundaries between the different disciplines of the business. The urge to drink coffee can be strong enough to leave the workplace and head to the other side of the building. And meet someone on the way!

The coffee point should be placed near workstations and encourage people to move around and meet new people.

Interesting fact: just the noise of the working coffee machine and people talking around increase productivity and creativity. And designing one big coffee point increases, on the one hand, the chances to meet someone and generate new ideas and on the other hand — just to work properly on something.

Pixar’s office is the classic example built for engineering serendipity: there is a huge coffee point on the ground floor (and not the only coffee point, but we’ll talk about it later):

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Pixar Headquaters [California]

Using a lot of bar furniture

It’s not very comfortable to sit on them for a long time, but bar-style seats support on-the-fly conversations. You won’t spend to much time off your workplace but will have to seat while you wait for a drink or have your lunch with the person you don’t know.

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Booking.com [Amsterdam]

Open staircases [with glasses for more clarity!]

Yes, they also increase the chances to meet someone! Two floors of the office are visible and you can see who’s going elsewhere. Some companies also create some working spaces on the stairs, so everyone, who passes by can see you, say hello and have “staircases chat”. A lift will never give you such an opportunity, if only…

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Mailchimp [Atlanta]

Elevator floor

Yes, you got it right. For example, in New York, in The Bloomberg building elevator take you from the ground floor to the cafeteria floor. It’s the only way to switch elevators and get to the floor you need to.

Shared tables in the cafeteria

Huge tables in the open space zones and the lunch areas. You can’t just find some lonely table in the corner, you are forced to join people you work with or even someone you don’t know. And sitting next to them you will probably hear what are they talking about — the best opportunity to join the conversation!

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Facebook [Austin]

Bathrooms on the ground floor

Yes, that’s a bit cruel idea. Steve Job’s idea for Pixar office. Even the shyest introvert has to leave the workplace, make eye contact with others and meet people he never met before.

The volleyball / Frisbee / Ping-Pong

That’s also forcing people that never met to do something together. Games, sports activities unite people and give them more reasons for communication.

Sofas next to lifts and stairs

If you met someone in the lift or on the stairs and it’s uncomfortable to talk — just have a seat. Who knows, maybe this meeting will lead to something unexpectedly cool!

ASOS Headquaters [London]

Open just one main entrance to the building / office

That’s a piece of advice from Zappos. Increase the flow of the people in one place at the same time — easy to do, but think about fire safety.

Creating queues. But not annoying ones :)

Google does that to be sure that people can meet waiting in the line. They create the optimal length of the queues — so people could chat and meet someone new.

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Google [London]

Narrow corridors

Yes, it sounds very primitive. But in wide corridors, people feel more secure and begin to stick to smartphones. If the hallway is narrow, it is easy to bump into someone and be more focused.

Rooftop & rooftop cafés

Wanna spend some time on fresh air? Or have a sunbath? Rooftop creates additional opportunities for meetings.

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Lorals [New York]

We know, how to make people meet if they work remote. We found the way to engineer serendipity online. Try NextPage.

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The blog about serendipity meetings that can change our lives.

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