Thinking Beyond COVID-19, Part Three: Design & Effective Collaboration

Question: Will the future of work and learning require less collaboration than we have previously designed into our workplaces and schools?

Over the last seven decades, the general thrust of work and learning has shifted from each individual producing independent results to a more collaborative approach. One of the first commentators of this trend was business guru Peter Drucker. In 1959, he identified the rise of the “knowledge worker.” Their rise continues, impacting just about everything related to learning and working.

Knowledge workers are less skills-based in their productivity than, say, assembly-line workers. As such, knowledge workers don’t perform the same tasks repetitively. They produce a diversity of outputs. These days, knowledge workers are required to embrace lifelong learning in order to stay current with various best practices so that they can engage in a variety of problem-solving activities. This, in turn, demands effective collaboration with peers and others.


We definitely live, work and learn in a world where brains are a “1+1=3” phenomenon. Even far prior to COVID-19, those predicted most likely to succeed were those who could most effectively collaborate. Post-pandemic, the need for effective collaboration is bound to continue increasing, likely at a faster rate. After all, our world is becoming ever smaller and more specialized.This requires all of us tap into the expertise and experience of others, while offering them our own, if we are to maximize our personal and collective powers.

As such, educational and workplace design must allow for, and enhance, opportunities for collaborative learning and working. The online fatigue wearing so many down during the pandemic is a result of several factors, including the loss of learning and working together in a physical place. The breakdown of interpersonal routine and established behavioral patterns has, in many cases, degraded learning and work effectiveness.

While the importance of collaboration will be even greater after the pandemic, the questions we posed before it are still relevant now:

  • How do we meet formally?
  • How does space encourage us to interact informally?
  • Where do we go to share our ideas and create results together?
  • How does technology solve our collaboration gaps?
  • What impact does enhancing collaboration have on our innovation?

Our current isolation underscores the loss we feel due to a lack of effective collaboration. Our hyper-connected, technology-rich world still produces loneliness and a longing for belonging, for engaging “IRL,” to use a texting acronym most of us have used abundantly of late.

When planning and designing space with collaboration in mind, it’s important to augment the five tactical questions above with the  following three strategic questions:

  1. Relationship (caring)—How will our space fulfill the quality of teamwork?
  2. Community (belonging)—What will our space do to enhance the positive effects of human collaboration?
  3. Shared Strengths (motivation)—When will our space effectively blend the cross-pollination of productivity, pedagogy and culture?

This post is one in a multi-part series that challenges the design community to think beyond COVID-19 as we explore the principles of efficient focus, effective collaboration and experiential innovation. You can read the introduction to this series here or catch up on our last post, Part Two: Design & Efficient Focus.