A Shared Workspace Must Be Built Through Collaboration

"If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas."

- George Bernard Shaw

Design won’t create a collaborative space by itself. Through my direct experience, and observation of others’ projects and spaces, I have noticed that a valid, well-planned project doesn’t necessarily foster collaboration. That’s because the nature of work is evolving, and people’s values also need to evolve with it. Many possibilities and opportunities can unfold from new behaviors, but we need to encourage interaction and educate individuals through the various practices.

A collaborative moment  – International gathering at The Hub Milan.
A collaborative moment – International gathering at The Hub Milan.

I have worked in different contexts and cultures and gleaned various perspectives. Even if we work in a collaborative environment, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are working together. Collaboration can be ingrained in a person’s attitude, but most of the time it is not. We can help people establish those values. Good design can encourage connections and foster new ideas in businesses, but isn't always enough. A company and its collaborative spaces need follow best practices to bring people together. They must place effort and invest energy into this, as it’s an essential step, particularly at the beginning of the process.

Once a collaborative space is successfully created, people’s positive energy will sustain it, so long as they come to believe in these new values and sustain them. Wikipedia defines “collaboration” as “a recursive process where two or more people work together toward an intersection of common goals”. Good collaborations grow out of an environment of mutual respect, open-mindedness, and the willingness and ability to work together. We must adoption collaboration not just as a utility, but as an integral part of the process.

Engage people in the process - Hub Bay Area collaboration board.
Engage people in the process - Hub Bay Area collaboration board.

People have become much more focused on the individual and the business. Getting involved in the design of a space could help people to shape their minds in a different direction. Collaboration can be seen as suspended productivity, but it is important to create value-focused conversations and activities that lend towards creative and generative work. Collaboration is the magic moment when we take a step beyond individual needs (financial gain, meeting objectives, being part of something, etc.) and co-create to serve a higher shared value. It’s important to foster a learning space and engage users in all aspects of its creation.

From the outset you have to build in a continuous assessment program to inform future projects and potential upgrades. To create real collaboration you want people’s minds and hands involved in the process. To embrace both the creative and concrete side, we must encourage a sensibility that working with others doesn’t create more work, but instead improves the quality of the work. It is important to listen to everyone’s ideas and create a design dialogue. Most of the time, informal situations connect people and create a good base for trust, respect and openness, giving them the freedom to express their opinion and be open to new patterns and possibilities.

Create informal situation in order to listen everyone and create a dialogue - Hub Oaxaca co-design workshop run by Andrea Paoletti.
Create informal situation in order to listen everyone and create a dialogue - Hub Oaxaca co-design workshop run by Andrea Paoletti.

Ask them to take photos of the designs that inspire them. The inspiration could be a beautiful object, a building, a place, or anything they see as they walk down the street or eat in restaurant or have seen in other collaborative environments. Finally, set up a design charter that quickly generates a design solution while integrating the skills and interests of each individual in the group. Don’t have rules—always be open to suggestions.

Be open to suggestions – Hub Milan.
Be open to suggestions – Hub Milan.

Another part of the process is to learn by doing. Build community between the people who are part of the workspace and value their vision and life experience that they can share. The simple process of helping one another build community fosters a collaborative mindset. The engagement of the entire group serves an ongoing invitation to each member to remain connected because there is the possibility to contribute as a complete person. This environment is partly created through collaborative space and design processes that respond to people’s needs and personalities, and this creates a sense of real ownership. Humor, recollection and storytelling are important elements because they connect people as equals and colleagues. These are the moments that build the social infrastructure that serves as an ongoing invitation for people to connect and collaborate.

Learn by doing – Hub Milan co-construction. Picture © Filippo Podestà.
Learn by doing – Hub Milan co-construction. Picture © Filippo Podestà.

When a team of people come together, there must be a motivating factor or goal, something that keeps the energy and input flowing towards the next step. This will invite questions about focus and the reasons for the collaboration. Often someone will propose a list of goals to keep people on task. To take people to completion, and transform a space and a group literally, you can do something really simple, like provide a paint brush that lets them learn by doing, by providing fertile ground to grow their ideas and create projects in a physical space they will call home. They will be working on a space design that responds to each member’s needs and acknowledges their responsibilities to the community. Most people like the idea that space is not just a container where someone puts objects, but it’s difficult for them to be part of a transformative process. We need to engage people in activity and encourage creative responses. The group needs to re-appropriate the space through conversation. Through this process, the space will nurture a community, blurring the lines that separate different kinds of users and thriving on those differences to create unique results.

Questions about focus and goals – Hub Bay Area.
Questions about focus and goals – Hub Bay Area.

How can we attract and push them through the process? Little by little. I think most people are scared to face something unknown, and they may feel overwhelmed by pending jobs. In my opinion, physical animation—the artifacts or interventions that appear in the physical space—fosters connectivity and sparks collaboration. People need to look at the physical environment and consider the myriad opportunities for physical animation.

Take their own creativity, starting from their perspectives and visions, to connect with people around and share their ideas. Turn walls into chalkboards, hang photos of people and connective information about what needs to be done and how, install and switch comfy couches and harvest tables, create notice boards, job postings and events listings, keep a coffee station. Meanwhile, set up co-creation sections in small areas of the office, where members are invited to get involved when they can and should.

Moment of paint brushing at Hub Bay Area.
Moment of paint brushing at Hub Bay Area.

Appropriation of the space through conversation at Hub Milan. Picture © Filippo Podestà.
Appropriation of the space through conversation at Hub Milan. Picture © Filippo Podestà.

The schedule of tasks should be planned very accurately, as a process that gathers people together, makes them collaborate, and emphasizes a common story that is represented in real, physical designed objects. It’s important to guide the process so the people can understand clearly what must happen for this work, what is possible even with limited time and resources, who is making decisions, and how the process will unfold. Doing this, each member of the community will feel like a valuable contributor to the process and approach this new way of collaboration. That can then be transplanted to other collaborative projects. In order to manage this process companies should account for collaborative design in their business plans and invest in people with flexible attitudes and an ability to multi-task.

Hub Milan coffee station.
Hub Milan coffee station.

A professional can design and produce technical drawings, but also offer skills for the facilitation process. They can manage detailed pre-planning sessions and consultations with participants, followed by the facilitation portion of workshops that encourage users to actively co-design their space. They can create moodboards and models to test and explore the developing designs. Data output, analysis and mapping are also integral parts of making the process evolve. New technologies offer us new opportunities to expand the capabilities of communities through active space collaboration.

Moodboards - Hub Oaxaca co-design workshop run by Andrea Paoletti.
Moodboards - Hub Oaxaca co-design workshop run by Andrea Paoletti.

Members of a community want to articulate and make choices in a way that reflects their values, and they want to interact using their preferred language and style. An online platform such as PBWorks is critical for sharing information, ideas and feedback. Coming from an Italian culture, I know food can play an important role in connecting people, so it’s important to educate people about not only the quality of the food served but also the conviviality of the venue.

Models - Hub Oaxaca co-design workshop run by Andrea Paoletti.
Models - Hub Oaxaca co-design workshop run by Andrea Paoletti.

Hub Bay Area sexy salad.
Hub Bay Area sexy salad.

The most important part of all process is listening: encourage people to take their ownership of a specific argument or situation. Activities like “speed networking” can unite people, create new opportunities, and make new connections. In speed networking, participants introduce themselves in small groups of five people or smaller for 15 minutes or less, telling one another who they are, what they do and why they are there. Every person changes groups at least five times in order to have made a great number of connections. This process helps the conversation unfold, and empowers people to join the community and contribute.

Hub Milan speed networking.
Hub Milan speed networking.

Hub Rovereto members wall. Picture © Francesco Pernigo.
Hub Rovereto members wall. Picture © Francesco Pernigo.

People aren’t robots who only think about what they’re working on. They’re also thinking about what they really want to do. It’s necessary to give them freedom of choice, to make them feel part of a world and empower them with a strong sense of meaning from their activities, personalities, and independence. We don’t need to create comfortable spaces—we need to create spaces where people are encouraged to give their best.

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