During our first Frame x ORGATEC: Agile Working virtual talk on IBA Forum, Jeremy Myerson mapped the tactics workplace designers can use to help employees think differently.

Lots of office buildings claim to be able to foster greater levels of innovation within their host companies, but to what extent can architecture actually achieve this somewhat abstract goal, especially when so much work has gone remote? To learn more, Frame, ORGATEC and IBA called on the expertise of Jeremy Myerson, the director of WORKTECH Academy and the Helen Hamlyn Chair of Design at the Royal College of Art.

‘We are at a critical moment where we're rethinking the future of office buildings, how we work and how we interact with each other,’ says Myerson. ‘But the one thing that's been forgotten in all of this is that higher value of personal work. Collaborative innovation has been one of the casualties of this pandemic. The emphasis has, quite rightly, been on getting people out of harm's way — safety, social distancing, working from home. [But as a result], many of the trends in the office around densification — random encounters, the bump factor, share communities and social interaction, which are very much part of creating new ideas — have been sidelined.’

‘In its technical sense, collaborative innovation is a way for large businesses to link their scale and resources, with the ideas and agility of startups and specialists,’ he explains. ‘It allows multiple players inside and outside the organization to contribute to the development of new products, services, business solutions, and so on, and openly share what they develop.’ Bottom line: it matters. During the talk, Myerson shared three strategy models adopted by companies, and his predictions for how COVID-19 will ultimately change them.

Collaborative innovation has been one of the casualties of this pandemic

THE INNOVATION LAB

‘Many companies have a model we would call the Innovation Lab,’ he said. ‘This is a dedicated internal facility for employees now operates at the organizational level. It's an internal space or set of facilities to support organizations to innovate. It's controlled, it's secure — the first building block in a strategy for collaborative innovation. And it departs from the traditional behind-closed-doors corporate lab: it’s more sociable and outward facing, and has a range of high-tech, lo-fi communication tools. These innovation labs are exhibition spaces, quiet zones, project rooms, agile scrums, collaboration spaces and so on.’

THE SHARED HUB

‘The Shared Hub brings startups into the organization and mixes things up at the system's level. It's more permeable, and allows joint ventures with co-working providers. It gets the employees — especially of large banks — to be rubbing shoulders with FinTech entrepreneurs and startups and disruptors, and the usual corporate space standards no longer apply. There's a growing accent on high design concepts and hospitality curation and events. With incubators and boot camps, and spaces bookable via apps, this model balances corporate ownership with external influence.

THE KNOWLEDGE AGORA

‘The Knowledge Agora is this most permeable model of all. It extends into public space and it takes its name from the Agora, the ancient Greek term for the open marketplace in the city, but it's reinvented as an innovation district for the 21st century. Here, the office workplace sits in a wider hinterland of innovation, nestled next to high-end retail, hospitality, universities, cultural facilities and so on. It's an intoxicating mix, and corporates are visible within university research projects and centres. There's a network of spaces and maker spaces and social spaces. And this is what you get: a real mixed-use development.’

POST-COVID INNOVATION

Myerson explained that pre-pandemic, companies were increasingly moving toward the Shared Hub and Knowledge Agora models. ‘But now we're seeing COVID-19 reshape the innovation landscape,’ he said. ‘And we predict that there's likely to be retrenchment to the corporate lab. Innovation activities in this model are easier to control with a virus. Today, health needs will compete with the economic considerations of aggregation for business innovation, and business transaction purposes. And health requirements will probably win out in the short term. What will happen though, is that technology will step in to fill some of this gap. It will affect how innovation is conducted both within and beyond office buildings.'

To deal with this new landscape of innovation, we're going to need a culture change in organizations

‘To deal with this new landscape of innovation, we're going to need a culture change in organizations to enable new forms of managing innovation with a remote and distributed workforce no longer in the daily line of sight. So we're going to see different types of distributed management and leadership systems emerging and performance management will change as well. More broadly in terms of design, we can expect the office to become not a place for routine standard screen-based daily work, but a more irregular-use, hospitality-based destination, bringing people together for training, mentoring and above all, for innovation activities.  The office will be part of a hybrid model, of home-working, flexible service space and satellite office provision.'

See the full programme of talks and panel discussions here for the Frame x ORGATEC: Agile Working event, taking place until 30 October 2020 on the IBA Forum. Miss out on a talk or discussion? Find the recordings on IBA's platform.