Want people to work together? Hide the Microwave…

Years ago, the leaders went to all of the faculty areas in our school and removed the kettles and microwaves citing WHS issues. I always wondered if there was a hidden reason though.

Recently, a former colleague from that same school, Anne Knock, published her PhD that focussed on factors that help teachers team-teach. Her conclusions were that purpose-built spaces for collaboration with walls that house shared projects have a significant effect on the ability for people to team-teach. Her PhD seminar is a 3-part series that you can check out below.

Margaret Heffernan who is, in my mind, the queen of workplace culture and productivity, recommended long ago that workplaces should centralise the water coolers so that people can gather together. According to Alex Pentland from MIT, productivity at a call centre increased by $15million just by aligning break times and centralising water coolers and other appliances.

Steve Jobs also recognised this and when he designed Pixar Studios. He designed the building for ‘forced collisions’. This design and the collaboration that resulted was responsible for movies such as; Wall-E and Up.

“Steve designed it so that there would be a lot of forced collisions of people, he always felt that the best meetings were meetings that happened spontaneously in the hallway.” Pixar employee.

So, why remove the microwaves from faculty areas? Because, if we don’t, people will stay in their faculty areas and, just like Steve Jobs realised, forced collisions are the most creative and productive meetings we can have. An investment in social capital is never a waste.

“We had a nice lunchroom. But just having it wasn’t enough, we made it a rule so that people would see that we valued the value they find in each other. We think that matters to our business.” Rob Jones, CEO, ASE Global.

At our school, AISPP, we have renamed our staffroom the ‘fika space’. This comes from Swedish tradition: the act of taking a break during the workday for conversation, coffee, and cake to renew. While having an excuse to eat donuts is already appealing, fika is an easy way for us to invest in social capital and, with the majority of staff extending their contracts into 2023, we’re getting the returns.

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