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It's good to talk: why human friends are better for collaboration

Ironically, the increased use of AI in the workplace is highlighting the value of human collaboration. Just talking with colleagues is good for your health and productivity. Consequently, companies are increasingly building physical spaces to promote conversations and idea sharing. For those working remotely, it's also getting easier to talk. The virtual conversation hub is emerging as smart technology improves the conference-call experience.

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It's all the rage these days. Creating social spaces at work with promenades and trendy cafés. Making the workplace more like a village than an office.

But why bother? Surely now we're all flexible, remote workers, meeting virtually via collaboration apps like Microsoft Teams or Zoom Rooms? These days, offices are just somewhere to go for the quarterly review meeting.

The truth, as always, is somewhere in between. Yes, we're heading into a truly digital, work-anywhere-anytime era, especially as new generations enter the workforce. But organizations still recognize the value of having a physical center of gravity. Often, the corporate HQ is an important status symbol, the architectural expression of the company's brand and values.

There's another, far more important aspect to the concept of the social office environment and it involves a word that's informing every area of business these days: experience.

User experience, customer experience, employee experience – they're now recognized as critical sources of revenue, customer loyalty and employee satisfaction and productivity. And naturally, the workplace is a key element of the employee experience.

For HR and operations teams, and the architects and interior design specialists they are briefing, the challenge is to combine the new, itinerant work ethic with the rigid nature of office space. The goal is to foster a culture of freedom, personal empowerment and unfettered collaboration that drives innovation and productivity.

Open plan environments, hot desking, wireless networks and smart, highly portable devices have been around for a while. But the culture shift seems to happen most profoundly when organizations tap into the deepest human instincts of community and social interaction, by creating workspaces that are more like villages or piazzas than the conventional idea of an office.

There's good, solid sense behind it. Psychologist Susan Pinker, author of The Village Effect, highlights a study of contact center agents which showed they can be 20% more productive when encouraged to take breaks and socialize than those who take breaks on their own. 

Similarly, research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, suggested that speaking face-to-face to somebody was 34 more times likely to achieve the desired response than sending them an email.

Nevertheless, a lot of the noise in the market about employee experience tends to be round mobility management and security, home working, bring-your-own and other technologies. So the smart way forward is to create workplaces that foster that culture of freedom and collaboration in the office as well as on the move.

Technologies such as the ThinkSmart Hub 500 help to do this by making it much easier to conduct conference calls and video conferences. People in the office and working remotely can set up and run collaborative sessions with none of the connection and quality problems that so often make the realities of online collaboration a far cry from the original vision.

As artificial intelligence and process automation begin to take on more and more routine tasks, it's likely that knowledge workers will actually have more time to interact face-to-face, rather than being tied to their desks by dull, laborious work. If the physical environment is right, this freedom to be more social and human can unlock the very best of the invention and passion to succeed that drives growth and leads to great experiences, for customers and employees alike.