Jason Owen-Smith

Running into co-workers by the coffee machine or water cooler is a time honored way for employees to mix and share ideas. Now employers are becoming more mindful and strategic about how they bring workers together, The Wall Street Journal reports in an April 30 article. Organizations as varied as National Public Radio, online retailer Zappos, and Google have tried to increase serendipitous collaborations through strategies such as holding brainstorming sessions among employees from different departments, cutting the amount of space per person, and designing a building to put all employees within easy walking distance of each other. These efforts have been bolstered by the work of ISR researcher Jason Owen-Smith, who found that research scientists are more likely to collaborate if they work in the same buildings and run into each other while walking between lab space, office space, bathrooms, and elevators. Such impromptu conversations can be remarkably fruitful, Owen-Smith says. “If that person knows stuff you don’t, that process can lead to information transfer,” he said.