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  • Writer's pictureJohn Bell

Future Work: Designing Collaboration

["Designing Collaboration" is one of 5 Near-term Realities of Future Work. Click here to see all five.]

"Presenteeism" - making sure people are at their workstations and producing – especially knowledge workers – turns out to be a silly reason to invest in all that Steelcase or Knoll furniture.

But interaction is important. Collaboration, mentoring, and learning create value for the business and engagement for the employee. Working in person with your team, dropping in for a mentoring conversation, or having a chance to work alongside leadership are all important. Requiring employees to fill a quota of days in the office is not enough.

"If the primary purpose of an organization’s space is to accommodate collaboration should 80% of the office be devoted to collaboration rooms?" - McKinsey, June 2020

How many jobs have you held where the way to work together was determined in an ad-hoc fashion? If in doubt, groups held meetings in conference rooms to try and sort things out. A cottage industry formed amongst productivity consultants on how to run “good meetings.”

Enough. It’s time for businesses to invest in developing good collaboration methodology and training, tech-enabled spaces that spark fast and productive collaborations that involve people in the room and online, and new digital tools that will all make it possible.

Augmented Spaces

How will office spaces be redesigned? It isn’t as simple as open-plan vs. offices, or more dedicated conference rooms. We can look at innovation centers like AARP’s The Hatchery in Washington DC. Work designers came up with these spaces to facilitate and quicken collaboration between people from different organizations. The rooms were informed by design-thinking practices.

Clues on next-gen office design will come from the hundreds of community co-working hubs and clubs popping up around the world. ThirdSpace in Singapore is designed to spark collaboration and learning between creatives and businesspeople. It’s not simply desks for gig workers. The space is designed to promote interaction. They hold seminars and courses at the intersection of Strategy, Creativity and Entrepreneurship. Early interest in the space is not just from independent creatives and entrepreneurs but from the creative teams at major corporations who want to cultivate learning and ideas. (Disclosure: I am lucky enough to be involved with the founders of ThirdSpace to help design the learning program).


How do you run brainstorms to get the highest level of involvement from everybody and the best thinking? How do you do customer discovery quickly and efficiently to fuel those sessions? What do you do to spark innovative thinking amongst all employees? How do you problem-solve? Develop new products and services? Implement big transformations across your organization?

Leading companies will invest, adopt and train on key methodologies while remaining flexible to change. At Ogilvy, we had the “Butterfly” which evolved into “Combustion” and “The Big IdeaL” – all ways to help us work collaboratively and quickly. At NextNow Digital, I use the Brand Narrative Platform, the Business Platform Canvas (a version of the popular business canvas), and the Journey Worksheet. Frog Design says that “Innovation is a skill, not a talent” and promotes “Discipline over darts.” They have the tools and methodology to drive an inspired process. The Ideo Method Cards box stares at me from my bookshelf.

If we want to reap the biggest benefits from collaboration, interaction and the precious time spent together in one place and/or online, let’s be intentional in our way of doing that.

Digital Tools

There are a lot of tools out there to facilitate communication and collaboration. From Slack to Teams to Notion, a ton of interesting progress has been made over the last few years.

Tools like Miro and Zoom have exploded in popularity during COVID. Miro provides an online collaboration experience that is even better than the whiteboard experience I grew up with. Collaboration experts like Terry Irwin, Professor of Design and Director at the Transition Design Institute at Carnegie Mellon University who effectively engaged 70 participants across the US and UK to develop Stakeholder Mapping in Venture Equity for the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center can now scale collaboration in very meaningful ways online.

Zoom has become a defacto standard in synchronous telepresence. In our online class at CNM Ingenuity, Next-Gen Digital Marketers, we use the breakout room function to effectively enable small teams to collaborate and bring back conclusions and ideas to the bigger group.

Tools like Balloon spark asynchronous idea-generation within a team. Users answer provocative questions and vote on the most valuable ideas – essentially achieving what we did with “dots” on sticky note ideas in a conference room.

Future Work: 5 Near-Future Realities was originally delivered as a live presentation to the Economic Forum of Albuquerque in 2022.


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