Collaboration Commons designed to enhance discussions amongst employees

August 14, 2014

By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • Research shows that innovative ideas and collaboration are often the result of informal conversations
  • With the Collaboration Commons, ARL wanted to create a space similar to a hotel lobby or airport lounge where informal meetings and conversations frequently occur
  • Collaboration Commons concept is that the space cannot be reserved for meetings (including TAB panels) and space within the room cannot be closed off

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory recently converted one of its former library spaces located in the Human Research and Engineering Directorate at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and designed a room that is more modernized and creative. This resulted in what is now known as Collaboration Commons.

During the renovation of the HRED building, the former library space was left vacant due to the decision to consolidate physical library facilities and focus more on digital access. The idea behind the newly designed room was to create a space where employees can get away from their cubicles and talk to others with whom they do not necessarily work.

"Research shows that innovative ideas and collaboration are often the result of informal conversations. Companies such as Google even manipulate the length of the lines inside their cafeteria so that employees will chat while they are waiting," said John Lockett, acting director of HRED. "With the Collaboration Commons, we wanted to create a space similar to a hotel lobby or airport lounge where informal meetings and conversations frequently occur.

"In talking to the workforce, we realized there was a need for spaces designed for discussions too large for a cube, but too small to warrant booking a conference room," he continued. "Also, [the building] includes very few windows and the former library space has four, so we wanted to keep access to that natural light open to all."

Lockett said the design started with a sketch pad.

"I walked into the room and drew up a few layout concepts. Form should follow function, so the initial concepts included seating near the natural light provided by the windows, project workspaces, different-size shared media stations distributed throughout the room, and open paths that flow from one area to the next without blocking doors," said Lockett. "Our CAD support group at HRED (Nickel and Kosinski) turned the concept sketches into AutoCAD files. Then I worked with designers to refine the layout and select finishes. We took into account the midcentury modern design of the building when selecting furniture and finishes."

Most of the furniture can be moved easily to adapt the space as needed. A major feature is the Steelcase "Media:scape" workstations that enable several participants to hook up laptops and quickly change which of them is displayed on a central monitor by hitting a control "puck."

One of the workstations is a lounge area that can comfortably seat a dozen people. Lockett said it would be ideal for demonstrating software or conducting a team, a training session, or interactive working group. Another area includes a stool-height worktable and whiteboard. Reconfigurable seating areas for reading next to a window or having discussions are also included in the Collaboration Commons.

"The Collaboration Commons will evolve as it is used, but infrastructure, furniture and equipment installation were completed just in time for use during the Human Science Technical Advisory Board meeting," said Lockett. "The space was used for the Human Systems Integration poster and software-demo session during that TAB. It was also encouraging to see the space being used for several meetings even before the cardboard furniture boxes were removed from the hallway. We would still like to add wireless access in the space. We hope that it will result in unexpected ideas for collaborative projects across ARL, increased morale and integration of HRED and Weapons and Materials Research Directorate building 459 tenants."

Lockett indicated that an important part of the Collaboration Commons concept is that the space cannot be reserved for meetings (including TAB panels) and space within the room cannot be closed off.

"We want ARL employees and their collaborators to interact, see and even overhear what others are working on. We hope that this will lead to an exchange of ideas and serendipitous collaboration," said Lockett.

Lockett said he is often surprised when people don't know the name of people working a few cubicles away from them, let alone what they are working on. He wonders how you can form interesting collaborations in that environment. So, he wants to challenge the workforce (in or near HRED's building) to hold branch- or team-level open house and meet-and-greet sessions in the Collaboration Commons over the next few months.

 

Last Update / Reviewed: August 14, 2014