How To Design A Collaborative Environment Steve Jobs Would Approve Of

Is your workplace “user-friendly?”

How To Design A Collaborative Environment Steve Jobs Would Approve Of
[Photo: via Wikimedia Commons]

He knew how to design devices, no doubt about that. But Steve Jobs’s talent for making user-friendly, intuitive technology didn’t end at the iPhone. He had a gift for helping people interact as well, which is central to understanding the modern office and workplace of the future. He understood that today’s generation needs spaces that foster transparency and offer environments where the separation of work and home life is not so different.


Walter Isaacson, a Jobs biographer, writes in his new book The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution that Jobs knew how impromptu conversations and other casual and collaborative gatherings nurture creativity and spark innovation.

His design principles offer a guide for any company looking to maximize the potential of its workspace to promote creativity, encourage productivity, and improve employee satisfaction. But organizations need one more element in plans to optimize their workspaces and prepare for the future of work: if they want to collaborate, they need the technology that will facilitate that collaboration.

A Marriage Of Design And Technology

Today, organizations face the challenge of creating world-class work environments that please the eye, support productivity, minimize floorspace, lower energy consumption, cut operating expenses, and also accommodate a mobile, interconnected workforce. It’s a tall order.

But it’s possible. Like Apple, many companies have succeeded in creating stimulating and supportive workplaces–places that employees want to go to each day. Take, for instance, DreamWorks Animation. The headquarters has winding walkways, babbling water, and bright work areas that invite casual meetings. The campus, designed by Gensler and Steven Ehrlich Architects, capitalizes on calming, human-centered spaces that support the creative process with natural light and flexible configurations.

Behind the scenes of designs like the ones at Apple and DreamWorks–which support free-flowing innovation and fuel creative magic–is collaboration technology that keeps business processes on track and on time. Tools like video conferencing allow experts who aren’t physically in the office to join meetings and creative planning sessions, even the spontaneous ones. And the technology can capture any gathering on video, preserving it for review or to be shared with the rest of the team. With the right technology, no idea ever gets lost or overlooked.

Deploying The Necessary Collaboration Tools

The kind of collaboration technology that best serves an organization depends on its purpose and desired result, which may change over time.


For example, at Boeing, each new aircraft program has a distinct mission that significantly impacts the company’s future success. Before initiating a program, Boeing works with Dassault Systems to refine its collaborative environment to best support the project. Boeing’s collaboration suites include standard audio, video and web conferencing tools as well as specialized access to CAD/CAM systems via large screens. These integrated designs enable product designers to work collaboratively with the best engineers and partners around the globe on next generation aircraft.

While needs will always evolve over time, a baseline investment in video technology is undoubtedly wise. It conveys more information and context than audio alone and gives an in-person feel to any meeting, despite people’s physical location. And, allotting space for at least one high definition display unit within the office space gives employees a way to display information, annotate documents, record their sessions and preserve their thoughts.

Aesthetics, Culture, And Collaboration

As Jobs instinctively knew, workplace design really does matter. It matters in terms of creating a pleasing environment for employees–one that makes it easier and more enjoyable to do the things they need to do. It matters in terms of bringing together different people and workgroups and accommodating the different ways they get their jobs done. And it matters in terms of fostering communication between all members of teams, across team lines, beyond borders and between in-office and mobile out-of-office colleagues and partners.

When organizations take all of these criteria into consideration, they’re better positioned to design successful workspaces for today and tomorrow. The only question left to answer is what’s the best way to do it for your organization?

Jeffrey Rodman is the cofounder and chief technical evangelist at Polycom.