COLLABORATIVE TEAMWORK: Exciting New Insights from Workplace Designer Primo Orpilla


In this episode four of the podcast series ‘Smart Coffee Break, The Productivity Podcast’ brought to you by Nestlé Coffee Partners, we explore the subject of team-to-team and in-team collaboration within the workplace with special guest Primo Orpilla. 

Flatter, faster and more fluid is a way to increase cross-team collaboration

New forms of dynamic teamwork will hold the key to future productivity, says San Francisco-based workplace designer Primo Orpilla in an exclusive interview with the Smart Coffee Break, presented by Nestlé Coffee Partners.

Workplace productivity in the post-pandemic era will increasingly depend on companies letting go of the past and allowing more fluid forms of team-to-team collaboration to flourish.

That’s the view of leading workplace designer Primo Orpilla, co-founder and principal of San Francisco design firm Studio O+A, who has designed a series of high-profile projects for technology firms in Silicon Valley including Uber, Facebook, AOL, Microsoft and Slack. 

Orpilla explains that what is happening right now inside Silicon Valley’s largest tech organisations will hold a clue to the future workplace and collaborative teamwork. 

‘Innovation is king,’ he says, ‘and we want it to happen everywhere and as many times as we can. So, what's changed, I would say, is the way that information and engineering is processed is less linear and more organic.’  

The evolution of collaborative teamwork from rigid hierarchies to super-agile team structures

How different teams interact and collaborate with each other across time and space will be critical to building company productivity, says Orpilla. He admits that companies have big concerns over how the hybrid workplace will unfold but describes ‘the next chapter of workplace’ as being ‘super agile’. 

‘As Silicon Valley switched from military R&D to software, its command-and-control structures also gave way …’ 

Given Silicon Valley’s history as a centre for military R&D, with its focus on command-and-control hierarchies, it is perhaps ironic that its innovators today should be developing flatter, more complex and more dynamic team structures. 

Primo Orpilla acknowledges the irony: ‘I started in the Valley when it was building satellites, missiles, tanks and every piece of war machinery, and then that all faded away for personal computers and hand-held phone devices and social media, and everything that helps you do your work today.’ 

As Silicon Valley switched production to software and computers, its command-and-control structures also gave way to new team structures that allowed ideas to percolate more freely. Orpilla attributes the rise of start-up culture to the emergence of ‘a more fluid workplace where a lot less was transactional and a more collaborative environment started to emerge…Back in the day, the workplace had one or two conference rooms. Now we have many conference rooms, now we have many areas to meet.’

Unjamming the brain for successful cross-team collaboration

Orpilla identifies with those in-between or ‘in-the-seam’ areas ‘that are not necessarily on the everyday route, but you may be going down them because your ritual is to read the newspaper or to get a cup of coffee or sit on the lawn, or whatever it is. Those serendipitous moments can be somewhat engineered, and we can manipulate those paths’. 

In the Smart Coffee Break podcast about cross-team collaboration, he describes an interior design project for a large software company over 14 floors in which ‘we put all the kitchens and coffee areas in different parts of the building on each floor, so they were not stacked, so it wasn't like this efficient route… but it sure was successful in terms of moving people through the building.’ People enjoyed figuring out the puzzle of the space and coffee points became a destination. 

‘It wasn't like this efficient route, but it was successful in terms of moving people through the building…’

Orpilla recognises that going off to get a refreshment in the workplace can ‘unjam the brain’ and unleash creativity: ‘So we're thinking of little areas that might introduce circadian-rhythm light or sounds or moments of distraction, but in a positive way like when you go to an art installation or see something unique.’

Demand on workplace.

The importance of the office for collaborative teamwork in the hybrid workplace 

The impact of the global pandemic and the increase in virtual working hasn't diminished the importance of the office for team interaction, says Orpilla, but it has ‘refocused it on what is going to be its highest purpose. The moments that we have in the office will be more deliberate…so it's really going to put the demand on the workplace. Does it supply better refreshments? Does it supply a more soundproof conference room? Or more collaborative environments with whiteboard easels, or AI or some sort of virtual holodeck-type scenario?’ 

It is the fourth programme in the six-part Smart Coffee Break podcast series on productivity at work. It follows interviews with Despina Katsikakis of Cushman & Wakefield on the evolution of office productivity, with Adelaide-based neuroscientist Dr Fiona Kerr on flow and focus, and with Simon French, Workplace and Design Director at GSK, on optimising team performance. 


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Coffee area solution in busy office enviroment
Coffee area soltuion in busy office enviroment

Primo Orpilla, as principal and co-founder of studio O+A, a San Francisco design firm has created interiors in the commercial workplace that have changed the way we think about work. 

O+A’s ground-breaking offices for Facebook, Microsoft, Yelp, Meraki, Uber, Nike, Slack, McDonald’s, and many other companies have been instrumental in raising the bar on what all of us now expect from a work environment. Supporting the global movement toward healthy, meaningful, and creatively stimulating workplaces is something he has been proud to represent. 

The podcast series is presented by Nestle Coffee Partners in partnership with WORKTECH Academy, the global knowledge platform and member network exploring how we’ll work tomorrow.    
Subsequent podcasts in the Smart Coffee Break series will focus on such subjects as team-to-team collaboration and unplanned interactions, featuring interviews with experts from around the world.   

Nestle Coffee Partners has worked in partnership with Worktech Academy to elevate the productivity conversation in the workplace. You can also Worktech articles related to this artcile below: