Using your building to foster staff collaboration


Anna Rose explains three ways in which your school building can encourage staff collaboration.

Informal human interaction is one of the key drivers of knowledge exchange. In the creative industries, spatial and workplace culture is directly linked with productivity. 

Space planning and knowledge management are the key to successful workplace design. A while ago we observed an advertising agency in which 80 per cent of staff interaction takes place in an unplanned manner. Of this, about 80 per cent lasts less than one minute. How can the design of the workspace respond to this? The strength of any creative organisation is shaped as much by the day-to-day chance contact of its members as it is by formal gatherings such as scheduled appointments. 

In fact, innovation in the workplace is often the result of informal, “unplanned” interaction. Critical information leading to business innovation often comes from such informal encounters between colleagues belonging to different departments within the same organisation. By analysing the relationships between physical layout and space occupation strategy, it is possible to establish the appropriate degree of movement and encounter.

One of the key social processes taking place regarding informal communication is the “recruitment of colleagues”. For example, the moment a person leaves their desk, they make themselves “available” in the recruitment process. How can we create opportunities for this to happen in schools? In many schools there are not enough opportunities or suitable spaces for this. Corridors are too narrow to stop and there is nowhere to sit down spontaneously. 

Multi-use circulation zones also help to reduce unsupervised space which can represent safety issues as they lend themselves to anti-social behaviour or bullying. Here are three steps to make your school’s building work harder for you: 

Understand your building

Identify existing patterns of movement and communication in the building by observing and interviewing all users, including teachers, pupils, support staff. Describe and map which areas are busy and which areas are underused to build up a picture of the constraints and opportunities of your building.

Realise spatial potential

Within staff areas identify activity zones and create opportunities for staff to “recruit” each other in conversation around busy areas, such as close to copy machines, coffee makers, near the entrance of the staffroom (for example use bar stools and counters). Locate zones for small group conversation and hot-desking one step away from the “recruitment zone”. This will improve the awareness of “co-presence” while allowing a degree of concentration and privacy (for example use small tables and comfortable chairs).

Locate desks for individual, concentrated work two steps away from the “recruitment zone”, but within visibility (desks behind glass doors for acoustic insulation). Identify suitable areas for functional tables and chairs within the circulation areas of the school, which can be used by both pupils and staff both during lessons and break times. This will enhance co-awareness and social surveillance.

Tackle underused spaces

Encourage the re-invention of underused and problematic spaces. Actively manage and “re-program” these spaces. This could even include closing off a problematic common area and possibly even turning them into controlled environments for special uses only. Some spaces might completely change just by providing “soft measures” such as new furniture and better lighting. Engage pupils and/or artists in the functional redefinition and redesign.

  • Anna Rose is a trained architect and director of Space Syntax Limited. The Teacher Development Trust is the national charity for effective professional development. Find out more at or access the TDT’s free database of CPD at


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