In recent years, corporations like IBM and Yahoo have reversed flexible or virtual work policies and started mandating that employees come into the office on a regular basis (if not all the time). They made these moves because leadership recognized the importance and value of face-to-face employee interactions, especially unplanned, spontaneous conversations (“water cooler moments”).

How does the physical workplace influence corporate culture?

The thinking goes that, if everyone is in the office all (or at least most) of the time, someone in the finance department could randomly bump into a marketer in the cafeteria, strike up a conversation, and together, they would come up with a brilliant idea for a new project or business initiative.

Sounds great, right? But measuring “interaction” and “collaboration” to prove a need for new workplace policies or initiatives can feel like herding cats. Luckily, with new tools and technology, we’re getting closer. Here are a couple questions you can ask about employee interaction in your workplace:

How Are Employees Interacting with the Space and Each Other?

With usage sensors throughout your building, you can capture real-time, valid data on how different spaces are used. You can find out how and where people are congregating—in conference rooms, collaborative spaces, soft seating, cafes, etc.

Before making any changes, you need baseline data. Look at metrics like conference room bookings vs. actual use and which teams schedule meetings together most often. Or, if you have a flexible or agile workspace, you can identify which teams choose to co-locate together frequently.

Are Spaces Under- or Over-Used?

With space utilization data, you can evaluate all the spaces in your workplace that are meant for meetings or collaborative work: conference rooms, soft seating, cafes, break rooms, etc. How can you create more of the most popular spaces to further facilitate employee interaction? Maybe there are unused nooks that can be turned into soft seating.

For the under-used areas, you might examine why employees aren’t using them. The answer could be something simple: for example, the never-booked conference room has a broken projector and the service request slipped through the cracks. You might also find that one floor has three large conference rooms and would be better served with four smaller rooms and a collaborative space instead.

What metrics demonstrate the importance of space planning?

How and What to Measure

Companies generally want to facilitate employee interaction because they believe it will lead to better productivity and performance. It’s challenging to measure that in knowledge workers, but there are a number of metrics and data points you can look at, such as:

  • Number or percentage of projects that come in on time and under budget
  • Customer ratings
  • Reviews on sites like GlassDoor
  • Absenteeism
  • Turnover
  • Job candidate referrals from employees
  • Safety incidents or workers’ comp claims

Once you determine the metrics that make the most sense for your company, establish baselines before any initiative designed to facilitate interaction (along with, of course, baseline utilization data).

After launching your employee interaction initiative, look at the utilization data and productivity metrics together. First, are you seeing evidence of increased interaction and collaboration? Then in one sense, the initiative is successful. But are you also seeing improvement in the productivity metrics? For example, is there a team that consistently completes projects ahead of schedule that regularly uses certain collaborative spaces or soft seating? Keep in mind it may take time for these trends to develop.

As the technology that tracks space utilization and employee interaction advances further, you’ll be able to get even more data and actionable insights.

How can you turn your workplace into a strong business asset? Learn tips on how innovative companies are promoting and encouraging employee interaction and collaboration.