customer experience

Making the Office Landscape into a Theatre of Collaboration

June 23, 2016
by Gianfranco Zaccai
Founder image 2

1.

Five years ago, Continuum was asked by Herman Miller to do some thinking about small-group collaboration.

So you’d imagine that this was the start of the Exclave project, a “spatial ecosystem where people and tools work together across the office landscape for sharing information, socializing ideas, and achieving results that drive profitability.”

Thing is, that actually wasn’t the beginning.

I would argue that Exclave started 33 years before, when Continuum had a notion that bringing people together with different sensibilities and perspectives would create more innovation and more complete solutions for almost any design challenge.

Continuum had a notion that bringing people together with different sensibilities and perspectives would create more innovation and more complete solutions for almost any design challenge.

This concept proved to be good business because many of our clients were trying to come up with better solutions—ones that would be embraced by people from different parts of the world.

We worked hard to stimulate collaboration within our own group.

From the start, we said that Continuum was an interdisciplinary organization. Although “interdisciplinary” sounded good, we didn’t realize at the time that many people were only comfortable within the comfort zone of their own discipline.

Getting new hires, for instance, to collaborate within the same space was a challenge. Many people didn’t come prepared for that. They came from silos within educational institutions.

We also wanted to be collaborative with our clients, who weren’t necessarily in the same space.

We had one office here in the United States and one in Europe, and we wanted the two different locations to collaborate.

At that time, most people preferred to work with a co-worker, a consultant or freelancer who was local, as opposed to someone they did know hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Videoconferencing promised to help this, but… it didn’t.

2.

We came to learn that collaboration and innovation don’t happen in a specified time and place.

It’s really a seamless space in which people start something by kind of wandering, or wondering, about something. They might run into a person in a corridor and go into a project room to discuss the matter.

Idea development is sometimes a tennis game, sometimes a scrum, and sometimes gazing at your navel and reciting a mantra.

Idea development is sometimes a tennis game, sometimes a scrum, and sometimes gazing at your navel and reciting a mantra.

It’s all about trust. People collaborate by trusting each other. The reason we shake hands is to show each other that you don’t have any weapons. We look each other in the eye to ensure that we can work together.

Communication tools are tools of trust. While people have been painting caves and drawing things on sand and eventually doing napkin sketches—now it’s sheets of paper and Post-it notes.

We’re talking about images that communicate a certain feeling that we’d like to be able to capture. That’s the essence of the Exclave project.

3.

There’s an English term: “having a place at the table.” The literal meaning: it’s not sufficient to have someone on a screen or a wall, but at the table where the discussion’s taking place.

With Exclave, you can be mobile, and you can move from one location to another without interrupting the flow of information. You can look at 3D objects and share 2D information—digitally if you like, or with good old pen and paper.

Another part of the project: Thinking about creature comforts. People get thirsty and hungry. People need to be able to hang up coats and bags and charge portable devices and as we were working on Exclave, we realized this is exactly what we needed.

We’ve now got five offices in four different countries on three different continents. Clients on every continent except Antarctica. Our people are traveling everywhere and collaborating wherever they are. We’re dealing with meaningful innovation and making that innovation real.

And so: We're putting Exclave everywhere in our space, and people are hungry to use it and we keep trying to make it better. Together.

filed in: customer experience, Continuum culture, product experience

About the Author

  • Zaccai_Gianfranco
    Gianfranco Zaccai
    President, Chairman, and Chief Design Officer

    Gianfranco is known for championing a holistic and highly integrated approach to innovation research, design, and development.

    His vision has resulted in highly successful category-defining products including the Reebok Pump and P&G’s Swiffer. Continuum’s long-term strategic partnership with the Herman Miller Company has focused on developing innovations in healthcare.

    Gianfranco holds degrees in industrial design from Syracuse University and architecture from the Boston Architectural College. In 2007, he was awarded an honorary doctor of arts degree from North Carolina State University. In 2009, he received an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from Syracuse.