In today’s highly competitive environment, innovation has become the key to a company’s survival. It provides an edge in a world where evolving markets and exploding startups make turning a profit much more difficult to achieve. But how do we turn innovation from a buzzword into a reality?

From my experience, the most effective way to achieve innovation is through collaboration. Before opening BCNewt’s coworking space in Barcelona, I worked from home. It was a stifling environment because I didn’t have anyone around to turn to for a second opinion or advice, and there were few resources available to expand my knowledge base. This experience made me realize how vital human interaction is to innovation.

Collaboration has the power to spark innovation in the workplace because everyone brings a unique set of knowledge and skills to the table. Working together and embracing these differences gives birth to new ideas through the blending of unique viewpoints. Although many businesses recognize the importance of collaboration, there are often unaddressed obstacles that discourage it in the workplace.

One of the obstacles to collaboration is space design. Traditional office layouts with cubicles and dividers isolate employees from one another and discourage communication. This makes it more difficult for employees to collaborate and share ideas as they work. At BCNewt, we implemented open floor plans, allowing conversation and ideas to flow freely throughout the office without interruption. This layout encourages coworkers to seek out each other’s opinions and ideas rather than making it more difficult to do so.

We also created common areas where our coworkers could go to socialize, including a large kitchen and lounge area. It’s important to leave enough space for these places instead of simply providing a tiny coffee table in the kitchen or a lounge made to impress clients rather than encourage social interaction. These spaces are invaluable in the workplace because they present employees and coworkers with the opportunity to get to know each other better and build mutually beneficial connections.

Another obstacle to collaboration in the workplace is poor management style. Some coworking space managers have a real estate mindset, focusing solely on renting square meters and keeping the space filled. This limited mindset is outdated and detrimental to coworkers because it doesn’t take the development of a workplace culture into consideration.

The same rings true in other industries. There is more to collaboration than putting people in the same room and leaving them to their own devices, hoping for the best. In order to spark collaboration, managers must focus on creating a culture that encourages open discussion and providing opportunities to foster this type of interaction.

There are various methods managers can use to create a more collaborative work culture. At BCNewt, I focus on creating connections. For example, when coworkers start at BCNewt, I find time to meet with them individually to discuss their needs and potential. This allows me connect the dots between members and put them in touch with other coworkers who would be beneficial resources.

I also started a partnership program with local and international universities, providing business projects at BCNewt with access to young talent for hire. Making these connections is the first step in encouraging collaboration. Managers can play a key role in fostering mutually beneficial relationships due to the breadth of their network in a company.

Another way managers can create a more collaborative work culture is through fostering coworker engagement. According to the Gallup survey of the State of the Global Workplace, there is a positive relationship between engagement and performance. Engaged workers feel more connected to their company, leading to a 21 percent increase in productivity, heightened passion for their job and a more positive attitude during coworker interactions.

The key to engaging employees, as well as coworking entrepreneurs, freelancers, or digital nomads, is examining the way they view their jobs. Gallup reports the majority of employees view work as a calling and therefore desire a greater sense of meaning and personal development in order to feel truly engaged and satisfied.

At BCNewt, I make creating opportunities for personal growth a priority to boost engagement in our workspace. For example, we provide free mentoring with a reputable coach to coworkers who are looking to expand their business opportunities. We also host personal development events in our coworking space. We offer free monthly workshops for our coworkers, focusing on topics such as management, coaching, financing and marketing. In addition, these events allow coworkers to meet other people from the office and build friendships, encouraging them to interact more around the office and increasing the likelihood they’ll work together in the future. This can also spark project ideas as people learn about others who have skills they need. These methods have proved very successful, with 80 percent of our coworkers collaborating with each other within the first three months in the office.

Fostering collaboration also addresses the other obstacle to innovation: money.  Creative ideas are useless without the funds to develop them and transform them into realities. Through our efforts in fostering connection and personal development, we provide entrepreneurs with the skills and networking opportunities they need to find funding or partners for their projects. This is particularly important in a coworking space, where many entrepreneurs are just starting out and need to get their businesses off the ground.

By taking on this mission to foster collaboration in the workplace, coworking managers can create a more effective and innovative workplace, which will aid in the success of their coworkers. We’ve seen many success stories come out of our coworking space in Barcelona through using these methods. The cooperative company Compacto, which has won several awards in the Spanish film industry, the famous forms by Typeform, a top fundraiser in Barcelona’s startups landscape, and Medistream, the medical congresses blockbuster, have experienced success after working in our office space.

Without collaboration, innovation would cease to exist. It’s important for managers to put conscious effort into encouraging collaboration in the workplace. For some businesses, this will mean rethinking space design to increase ease of interaction. For others, this will mean a change of management style to increase the importance placed on workplace culture. It could also mean improving employee engagement and providing more opportunities for personal growth. Through collaborative initiatives, businesses can make innovation a reality and ensure their continued success in the future.

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Image via BCNewt