By Emma Haslett Thursday, 19 September 2013

Five ways to get your employees talking

Google's long lunch queues? That just means a lot of hungry employees. Here are five ways to get your workers chatting that won't lead to rumbling tummies...

On Wednesday Google UK boss Dan Cobley told an audience at the Institute of Directors annual convention that Google purposefully keeps its lunch queues long to encourage workers to get chatting.  

‘Chats become ideas and ideas become projects,’ he said.

As far as we can see, intentionally depriving your workers of food is not the way to go about encouraging collaboration. Here are five ways to get your employees chatting that don’t involve potential hypoglycaemia.

1. Hot desking

Yes, it’s the buzzword of the 90s – but there are ways to do hot desking that don’t make going to work the grown-up equivalent of deciding who to have lunch with on your first day at school.

Firms like GlaxoSmithKline have wifi throughout their buildings, and although there are traditional desks, there are also more informal work areas in the lobby and on the roof – and even, for athletic types, treadmills with desks attached. Workers are encouraged to leave their belongings in a locker and move around the building, ‘hanging out’ with different groups.

If you don’t like the idea of that, how about…

2. Musical desks

Massachusetts-based company Hubspot randomly assigns its employees a new desk every three months, forcing them to meet – and, hopefully, collaborate with – a new set of people each quarter. One of the added advantages of that is that because no one becomes too settled, they are more likely to keep their desk tidy…

3. Take the stairs

This is another – slightly healthier – Google innovation. The new Google HQ in King’s Cross has been designed with staircases as its focal point because, apparently, it forces employees to mingle. It’s a trick Bloomberg uses as well: its Bloomberg Tower in Manhattan has lifts that only serve every other floor for the same reason – research shows that forcing your workers to take the stairs is not only better for their hearts, but it encourages them to chat more. (NB – obviously there needs to be an alternative for those in wheelchairs…)

4. Get out on the town

Nothing says ‘I appreciate the effort you put in’ like a free bar and some canapés – and nothing gets random groups of employees talking to one another than a few beers. If you’re not a drinking kind of team, social events are still appreciated: a dinner with a table plan where teams don’t all sit together will ensure they get chatting.

5. Break-out areas, but better

Every office has a break-out area, but they’re usually dull places with a couple of cheap sofas and a drooping pot plant. What the nation’s trendy media and technology companies have learned is that encouraging employees to hang about in a break-out area for longer than is strictly necessary could actually be a good thing: it means they’re more likely to talk to others who turn up.

Lots of companies have installed video or pub games without seeing any drop in productivity. When MySpace opened its office in London in 2007, it put musical instruments in its break-out room, with the idea that musical collaboration would beget collaboration of another kind…

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