Even companies on the leading edge of technology realize there is no real substitute for good, old-fashioned face time. In 2008, I shared some insights from a software developer named Sergey Solyanik who had worked for both Microsoft and Google. While Solyanik found Google's culture too chaotic for his tastes, he liked the way Google created plenty of opportunities for face-to-face collaboration and team-building among its employees. The cafeterias serving gourmet fare, for example, aren't as much about feeding employees as they are about fostering on-the-fly brainstorming sessions.
Google isn't the only organization that realizes the importance of personal interaction. I also wrote about how the director of Ireland's University College Dublin's incubation and technology transfer center lowered the price of coffee at the center's cafe and made sure it wasn't served until 10 a.m., when folks were likely to leave their offices and encounter colleagues also in need of a caffeine fix. He also instructed architects to use lots of glass during a building renovation and relocate stairs and elevators to create a heavier traffic flow.
At the California headquarters of wildly successful animation studio Pixar, the main building's only restrooms are located in a central atrium, along with a pool table and a room filled with free cereal, reports The New York Times. Though serving free cereal might inspire eye rolls at some companies, it does bring employees together. Said Adrian Molina, a 24-year-old story artist:
... I find myself at 4 p.m. every day, going to my friend James' office and saying, "Hey James, it's 4. Cereal?" And we'll sit there and talk about what's working and not working. We're spending time, eating cereal and bouncing things off each other. And then ideas happen.
Employees are free to contribute their input on everything, including the food served in the cafeteria. Directors of films solicit ideas from all employees, even those who have worked for only a few months at Pixar.
Pixar goes to great lengths to ensure employees enjoy their time at the office. Workers are free to modify their workspaces as they'd like, including one worker who had his office ceiling removed so he could get lots of natural light. Happy employees are more likely to be collaborative employees, Sandy Kemsley seems to think. She writes on her Column 2 blog:
People collaborate inside enterprises when they care about what they do. In other words, if you make someone's job interesting and something that they have passion about, they will naturally collaborate using whatever tools are at hand in order to do it better. ... I strongly believe that you first have to make people care about their work before they will engage in creative collaboration, regardless of the shiny tools that you give them.
Another benefit enjoyed by Pixar: Employees don't get burnt out, even when they spend long hours at work. Said assistant projectionist Bryan Dennis:
It's such a different energy to be here. ... I don't have a problem working 12 hours today, because it's not going to be boring.