Co-Creation Workshops: How to Craft a Thriving Workspace

Masha Ustinova
March 1, 2024
Collaborative workshops with our clients': Sketch of Space Refinery's conceptual design processes

How Our Team Crafts Unique and Thriving Office Spaces

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many to work remotely. While working from home has its benefits, most employees miss the human connection and collaboration that offices provide. Not only that - a well-designed office promotes a unique company culture, inspires people, and makes them feel pride for working at the company. 

In our work as an office design and build studio, we understand what results our clients expect from such an investment in their team. One tool for achieving a people-centered environment is a tailored workshop that we run with the client’s team at the beginning of the project of office renovation or moving into a new workspace. 

What do I mean by tailored? At Space Refinery, we prepare a workshop based on the initial discussion with our new clients about the project. We define topics of interest and goals and create a workshop that would help us find the answers. In an ideal scenario, 10-15 people from the team participate in the workshop, which could take place in person or online, although preferably face-to-face. In the course of 90 minutes, we explore questions like: 

  • “What would be the inspiring or fun elements you would like to have in the space that would represent your company and department?” 
  • “What kind of feel would you like for your new workspace?”
  • “What would excite you about coming more often to the office in the future?”

Some of the clues and ideas from these discussions are realized in the final project. 

But why bother doing a workshop, when Pinterest, magazines and design fairs give us so much inspiration? Trends dictate what companies should have in their interior - especially a commercial one - as if ensuring that the project will be commercially successful. While it is true to an extent, the reality is that the trends come and go. What stays is the idea, the concept. If it is particularly good and relevant to you, it will stay with you forever. Workshops help discover ideas for interiors that truly reflect your company's values and unique culture, offering more lasting success than chasing passing trends.

Agile workspace for an IT department

In a recent workshop with an IT department, we were exploring the concept of agile work. The team was inspired by the idea developed at Spotify, where separate teams operated in so-called “squads”. Those are autonomous team spaces where each group or department has a separate coffee point, meeting space, lounge and workstations. The “squad” works and innovates together, in their “bubble”, before sharing their projects with the rest of the team. 

Developing the design concept for the agile office of the IT department: squads turn to atoms
Developing the design concept

Our workshop participants resonated with this concept yet they adapted it to their own needs. For example, the team wanted to have a sharing space where these “squads” could connect and discuss their ideas with their colleagues abroad. Or, instead of “squads” we applied the term “atoms” which was more relevant to that particular IT department. In programming, "atomic" refers to an operation that is indivisible, i.e. it cannot be interrupted or divided into smaller parts. This idea of efficient productivity and all components being indivisible inspired not only the name of the autonomous team spaces, but also the overall design concept. 

As a result of the workshop discussion, we developed a floor plan that included the “squads'' and the multipurpose lounge in the middle. With such a setup, individual teams could address different aspects of a project and meet in the multipurpose space to share ideas internally and externally. This layout isn't commonly seen in workspace design, but it suits this specific team well. Without the workshop, we might never have discovered and brought to life this exciting potential. 

Conceptual design for a chemical manufacturer

Another great example is a workshop we created for a chemical manufacturing company. The question “What kind of theme could be linked to your new office design?” received such answers as: “generations”, “life cycle” and “heart”. One theme was most frequently mentioned - the tree: “the tree of life”, “an ecosystem” and “a growing tree”. 

This discovery led to the creation of a comprehensive design concept. We incorporated the four tree components – Space, Sky, Trunk, and Earth – to guide our floor plans and assigned each its unique color scheme based on function. "Space" represented the focus libraries, "Sky" denoted the meeting rooms, "Trunk" symbolized the social areas and "Earth" designated the open work spaces. Through distinct colors and materials for each space type, we established defined zones within the interior with their own ambiances and respective functions.

Developing the design concept for the agile office of the chemical manufacturer: the tree concept informs the color palettes and biophilic design
Developing the design concept and moodboards, by our designer Chloé Lambermont

The power of co-creation

Throughout the workshops I helped to facilitate, I noticed that sometimes people do not believe that they are creative enough to come up with inspiring ideas. And, remarkably, those are the very people who often share a thought that ends up being successfully applied to the physical space. Workshops and skilled facilitation enable such synergies to happen, giving people the space to bounce ideas off each other in the beautiful act of co-creation. 

By now, hopefully, I have given you an insight into the power of workshops helping to create concepts. Of course, not all ideas, no matter how good, could be realized due to - yes, you know it - the budget. But if we start thinking big and then narrow the ideas down, we give ourselves an opportunity to create something unique, something that lasts and turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. 

Not all creative ideas come at a high cost. And definitely, not all costly things are truly creative. 

Balancing co-creative imagination and practical thinking brings the design to life.

Cover illustration by Masha Ustinova.

Curious to dig deeper?

Check out the article by my colleague Mariana Imhof on how much an office space in Belgium costs

or Sarah Done’s article on how we develop our conceptual office designs to reflect your brand identity.

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