Collaborative workspaces – the way forward for savvy SMEs

SMEs conscious about budgets and driving profitability need to be thinking about collaborative workspaces. “It’s the way forward,” says Hassan Shaikh, founder of Revolve, a specialist corporate and retail interior design strategy agency.


He says SMEs can benefit hugely from adopting this design strategy as employees have become mobile enough to work anywhere. “With the high use of mobile phones and laptops to access emails, people check in to emails at any hour of the day. This flexibility should be part of the business strategy when it comes to creating working environments. Embracing a collaborative workspace means that companies can reduce their space footprint and in turn lower operating costs.”


While collaboration and creating collaborative spaces have been buzzwords for some time, they remain hot trends but are not necessarily successfully carried out in businesses. “If there’s the right mix of corporate culture, open mindedness and the right people, it does work. However South Africans seem to attempt to force our diversely round peg into a very controlled European formatted square hole. Businesses, and especially SMEs, need to realise that this is definitely not the right approach for us as South Africans and makes the efforts toward collaboration ineffective,” says Shaikh.


He adds that businesses tend to be convinced that there is a right way and a wrong way of creating collaborative spaces. And that’s when it goes wrong. “Moving in the direction of collaborative spaces is a big shift for many companies that have always adopted traditional workspaces. Collaborative spaces need to be designed to be genetically suited for a business and this takes time and patience and lots of testing. Creating fixed, static areas for collaboration is the biggest mistake that a designer can make. Flexibility is key.”


The open plan office has been the predominant way offices have been designed and this has its positives and its negatives. With people becoming more connected and more mobile, the need for assigned desk spaces is becoming obsolete. Offices with multifunctional workspaces offer the progressive solution to effective workplace design. “Flexible collaborative spaces provide occupants with various opportunities to find the most productive arrangement that works for them. And these vary from person to person and company to company,” believes Shaikh.


But can creative collaborative spaces become more distracting than beneficial? Shaikh says there is confusion between real collaborative space and the well-coined ‘Google office’ environment. “Playful collaborative environments with pool tables, table tennis and activity-based furniture have been shown to actually be more distracting and this leads to lower productivity. These fun items belong in canteens and social areas in an office. Depending on the business culture, there should be a collaborative space that suits the business. Business owners need to be realistic about it. Google gets it right for Google!”


“Only through testing, testing and re testing can businesses get it right,” he says. “There is no one time solution that is effective. The benefits of creating an open hub space that is flexible will probably work….eventually. Flexible environments with mobile furniture pieces are essential to maximising the collaboration space. The people that interact with it will need to move items around and that’s not a bad thing. I prefer thinking of it as a concept of organic designed spaces where the occupants are allowed freedom to change as and when it is required. The more static the space the less it gets used.”


Speaking specifically to SMEs, Shaikh advocates creating co-working spaces where several businesses, that operate in the same industry, share space. “This concept creates more community-orientated businesses. In a tough economic environment, this surely makes business sense. For its people, there is the opportunity to work remotely, at a desk, in a quiet room or work in project groups in an informal set up. The benefit here is more flexibility of movement and the opportunity to be more responsible for one’s own job functions. It creates a working environment of trust and this leads to higher employee retention, brand loyalty and increased productivity,” he concludes.



The art of design science

Revolve is a design strategy agency, headed by Hassan Shaikh, that creates inspired spaces for corporate and retail environments using a unique blend of creativity and design science.

Solution-based designs are carved from the team’s experience in the industry and their desire to improve functionality. Whilst understanding the need to maximise productivity, designs never lose focus on the people that engage within a space and their importance to overall business growth. Designs are therefore built on a people-centric approach, considering all aspects of a client’s business environment and goals.