Embrace serendipity: Why sociability and chance meetings matter in the workplace.

January 11, 2018    Ann Clarke     ,

Workplaces are rich habitats, full of diverse job roles, different talents, wide-ranging skillsets, far-reaching experience and different age groups. In a talent-poor economy where finding, not to mention keeping, the most skilled employees is one of a business’s biggest challenges, it’s important for employers to start recognising the power of serendipity.

Serendipitous or chance meetings and interactions may not sound like a productive part of business, but the benefits of sociability at work are not to be underestimated. Sociability breeds belonging, builds useful relationships and friendships and supports workplace culture. It can also help to improve knowledge and skills transfer, ideas development, productivity and loyalty too. A recent UK study found that one third of employees felt their workplace friendships helped them to be more productive and one fifth said it boosted creativity too1. Donald Clifton from the research giant Gallup agrees and says that employees with close work friends are typically more focussed, dedicated, loyal and well.

The value of sociability in the workplace is now understood better than ever thanks to an ever-expanding narrative about the importance of mental and physical wellbeing and the very direct correlation between health, wellbeing and productivity. Increased focus on the importance of workplace culture as a way of keeping employees motivated and loyal plays a part in this too.

For a long time, the workplace has been viewed as an asset to sweat rather than a communication tool with the power to unlock the potential of those using it. Google’s San Jose Campus in America is a case in point and perhaps the most high-profile example of a workplace designed around facilitating serendipitous encounters of all kinds. It has invested in environments that encourage this because it understands its success depends on innovation and collaboration, and finding creative ways to achieve that goal is key.

However, workspaces designed to create a stronger sense of community aren’t just the preserve of super-sized multi-billion-dollar corporations. Companies of all shapes and sizes are realising the power of engaged, connected and sociable workforces.

Employers keen to capitalise on the importance of greater workplace connections, knowledge sharing and sociability are already using this to steer their workplace designs and cultures. Removing departmental coffee points in favour of one centralised café and break-out area that brings everyone together is one way to facilitate a greater propensity for chance meetings and interactions. Similarly, the installation of internal staircases to connect floors can improve the likelihood of change encounters further and keep employees in a branded on-culture environment, rather than using communal lifts along with other tenants of the building.

Some critics might think that heightened sociability is unproductive and distracting, however the alternate view is to consider how well-connected employees could actually drive efficiency with a new skill or piece of information being shared with others in a timely way.

In other words, the time ‘lost’ by one employee interacting with others is far outweighed by the potential productivity and best practice gains it delivers from everyone having that knowledge, whether that’s sharing a creative idea or a new way of doing something better.

Some of the most important requirements of young people entering the workplace today are the opportunity to grow and develop new skills and a sense of belonging and shared purpose. A culture where sociability is encouraged and facilitated plays an instrumental role in fulfilling both of those needs and can boost the creativity, collaboration and knowledge-sharing required for ambitious minds and commercial enterprises to thrive.

Building sociability into the work environment isn’t about giving employees the excuse or opportunity to be idle, it’s about understanding and embracing the wider business value of a well-connected workforce.

To find out more about agile working, what it means for the physical office environment and how to manage the shift to agile working, download the full ‘Introduction to Agile Working’ whitepaper:

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