This two-part blog series shares strategies for driving workforce cultural change and innovation through collaborative workspace design, from Unispace workplace design expert Simon Pole. Unispace is a global design firm that seamlessly unites strategy, design, project management and delivery to achieve real, measurable results for clients.

If you missed last week’s article, see Can Office Design Drive Productivity & Innovation?

The demand for innovation is driving the growth of the collaborative workspace

Even for the most successful companies, maintaining the status quo is not enough to keep them competitive in the global economy. Remaining at the forefront of their industries demands constant innovation.

Ideas have become today’s most valuable commodity. One principle that’s become generally accepted is that collaborative working fosters more and better ideas, and ultimately leads to the innovation companies are after. As a result, companies are doing everything they can to create a collaborative workspace environment that encourages creative thinking and innovation.

However, it’s important to realize that there’s more to creating a successful collaborative workspace design than just adding more open space.

So what do you need to make effective collaboration happen in your workplace? Read on to learn about 3 essential strategies to get the best results from collaborative workplace design.


1. Don’t be swayed by popular trends

It’s tempting to be influenced by the cool new space going up next door, or by the photos you see online showing off the latest collaborative workspace designs. Expert workplace designer Simon Pole of Unispace cautions against giving too much weight to popular office design trends.

“My pet peeve at the moment is what I call ‘designed by Pinterest’,” says Pole. “It drives me nuts when you see so much copycat design. A while ago I asked a designer, ‘Why have you gone for that particular design?’ The response was, ‘Well, it’s so trendy right now.’ I ripped that material out of the library and threw it in the bin. Businesses are different. What they need from the space is different.”

The result of all the copycat design out there is poorly designed spaces that don’t produce the intended collaboration, because they are not based on what the business needs and how people work.

That’s why investing in research and strategy building is a critical step in developing a collaborative workspace.

2. Invest in research to design your collaborative workspace

Building a successful collaborative workplace requires understanding what drives the business.

According to Pole, this process starts by looking at how the business goes to market and the lifecycle of a company’s products.

“If a client’s product takes 10 years to develop, there’s no point in trying to shave seconds off their day with a certain kind of design,” says Pole. “We need to focus on other areas. Whereas in the financial world, seconds can make the difference between making money or not making money.”

It’s also essential to understand what collaboration actually looks like for the business.

“We have to dig into their values and really understand, at each step through their value chain, what they mean by collaboration,” says Pole. “How do you collaborate?”

To find out, Unispace studies the current use of space. They look at the utilization of various spaces including the numbers of people using them, the technology available, and what type of activities are taking place. They also learn about the more unplanned collaboration by spending time observing the business.

Pole explains, “We look at what’s going on within the process cycle of an organization.” Doing so helps them to understand which people and groups need to be collaborating more. That might not be the people you expect.

“Once we’ve gotten that understanding, then we start with pen and paper, and not the other way around. That’s just good strategy. At that point, you can start planning great a collaborative workspace.”

That involves bringing together all the important elements that contribute to a successful collaborative workspace, including:

Adjacency. Is the space located where people are likely to use it?

Acoustics. Are the acoustics in the space designed for the intended usage, or for a variety of uses in a shared space?

Privacy. Does the space provide adequate privacy for the activities taking place?

Environmental concerns. Is the temperature comfortable? Is the lighting adequate? Does the view inspire creative thought?

“People think you can just throw a D-shaped table and a 42 inch screen into a floor plan and collaboration happens. It doesn’t,” says Pole. “A collaborative workspace needs to be thought about as part of the business journey: who needs to use it, where should it sit, and who needs to be in it?”

3. Embracing collaboration requires a shift in company values

There’s one fact that companies who have implemented agile working will agree on: you can’t make people collaborate with space alone. The values of your business need to change.

In many cases, that means a shift from rewarding competition to rewarding collaboration and teamwork.

Pole explains how people get protective about sharing knowledge when organizations reward competition. “It’s my knowledge. I get paid for what’s in my head, so why would I be willing to share that? That’s my next paycheck.”


“To use an Australian Rules football analogy, the person who scores the goal gets a point, but the person who kicks the ball to set up the score is just as important to the team,” says Pole. “It’s not only about the goal score, it’s about the passage and play that sets it up.”

“In an organization, it’s about setting the KPIs around assists and not the goals or the score. Then people are encouraged to share and use that collaborative workspace more.”

Related article: 8 Tips to Encourage Collaboration in the Agile Workplace

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