January 27, 2023

As the global workforce returns to the office after extended hiatuses and forced remote working due to Covid-19, companies are looking to reconcile the benefits of working from home with the collaborative environment that an office enables. After all, a survey of nearly one million US employees at Fortune 500 companies found that productivity remained stable or even increased after employees went to work remotely.

For example, the American retail giant Gap Inc. optimize the collaborative nature of their offices with the creativity of its teams at Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta with the launch of “Co-Labs” – collaborative labs designed to foster a greater sense of belonging, encourage creative experimentation between its teams and drive product development across the company.

All brands of Gap Inc. have access to three state-of-the-art Co-Lab spaces at the San Francisco headquarters, which are the result of a two-year renovation. The site also includes 15 floors of flexible office space, a rooftop cafeteria, lobby cafe and ground floor retail space for each brand in its portfolio (internally referred to as Innovation Labs).

Adjacent to the lobby, adjoining retail spaces and along the streets of the Embarcadero, the Co-Lab spaces are surrounded by glass. From the lobby, employees can communicate with and draw inspiration from the creative processes of their colleagues. And from the retail spaces and streetscapes, customers and passers-by can see how designers create the products they buy and the creativity behind them.

The Co-Lab spaces also support Gap Inc.’s “Create with Audacity” movement. — an internal initiative that the creative teams of Gap Inc. wants to support and unite by providing them with the space, tools and resources needed to unleash their creative ideas. potential. The initiative includes development and education opportunities, educational programs such as Gap Inc.’s Design Apprenticeship for a new generation of creatives, speaking engagements with renowned artists and art institutions, and initiatives such as the Ink Arts Collective that brings together artists and storytellers. .

Now BoF sits down with Kai Augustine, director of visual communications at Old Navy, Melissa Lawrence, head of advanced concept design and futures thinking at Athleta, and Megan Carlee, senior designer at Gap, to explore how the company has planned its approach to collaborating as a way to stimulate creativity.

Kai Augustine, director of visual communications at Old Navy.

Kai Augustine – Director, Visual Communications, Old Navy

Why did Gap Inc. reinvented her creative workspaces?

We were, of course, forced to rethink the status quo when the pandemic hit in early 2020, and we took the opportunity we had to step back and challenge the way we work – not just virtually, but also within our built environments. While teams quickly adapted to new digital tools, there was still a need for in-person collaboration, especially when it came to creating products. As we thought ahead about what office collaboration might look like, we were able to ask ourselves and our teams for input.

We knew that a typical office with rows of desks, cubicles and meeting rooms was no longer conducive to the way teams worked. So we set out to build resilient, adaptable and flexible spaces that would serve as a creative epicenter for our brand – a place for creatives to come together, explore and get messy. You can see this today in our Co-Labs that opened earlier this year. It’s exciting to keep imagining what their evolution could be.

What is the meaning of the ‘Co-Labs’ space?

These Co-Labs are not only functional workspaces equipped with best-in-class tools, but also serve as the physical manifestation of our investment in creativity. The overall goal is to put creativity at the heart of our organization, to build communities, break down silos and unleash creative potential.

We want to make the product and the customer the hero of our new space, not just as a reminder of the customer we serve, but to keep inspiration flowing in both directions.

We want to make the product and the customer the hero of our new space, not only as a reminder of the customer we serve, but also to keep inspiration flowing in both directions. The window from the Co-Labs to the store is not only great for the customer to see the creation process, but also for us to be able to see them. It feels like a 360-degree view of the creative process.

How are creative opportunities shared with the wider Gap Inc. workforce?

The launch of our “Create with Audacity” movement late last year really opened the door for creatives across the company, regardless of brand or team. Through workshops and the Speaker Series, they can come together, learn and collaborate with each other, and begin to build on the strength of their peers.

We also wanted to open up the movement to all employees. For example, there are people who work in finance, but somehow have a passion for painting or art. So me and the team launched the Ink Arts Collective, inviting everyone at the company to share their artistic talent. We just completed our first inaugural submission process and are now working with a few artists to bring their concepts to life using the Co-Lab spaces for our first exhibition.

Having teams from around the world participate and shine a light on the creative talent beyond our actual creative teams is just another great example of putting creativity at the heart of Gap Inc.

Melissa Lawrence, Advanced Concept Design and Futures Insights Lead at Athleta.

Melissa Lawrence – Advanced Concept Design and Futures Insights Lead, Athleta

How did Gap Inc. supported you as a creative person and employee?

The company is great at investing in young talent, and I’ve seen it up close in my eight years with the company. I started my career here in clothing design and then moved into product innovation. I also spent time with our Equality & Belonging team where I laid the foundation for our customer inclusion strategy.

Through this exploration, I found my niche and built up a role as a cultural strategist. I focus on understanding what’s going on with people, how they live their lives and what the role of a brand is in a changing cultural climate, and what that can mean for product development. There’s a genuine need and understanding for that kind of creativity and I’m taking ownership of my little piece of the business.

I have always felt support from my leadership teams, between moving from Manchester to San Francisco in 2014, to more recently experiencing the ambiguity of the pandemic and with each new role and opportunity I have challenged myself with.

How did you get involved in the Create with Audacity movement?

This move has provided me with multiple opportunities to bring an outside perspective to the business, strengthening my insights and strategic recommendations. For example, I attended a cross-brand and cross-design immersion event at South by Southwest. Through this experience I was able to network with my peers and other thought leaders in music, film and art, and hear how different people do things when it comes to trends or design.

I get ownership of my little piece of the business.

In addition to learning opportunities, there is also mentorship through the program’s Creative Council, which includes trend forecasters Li Edelkoort, Philip Fimmano, and Jonathan Cheung. I had the opportunity to present my macro trend work to them along with the designers showing how that trend has translated into actual design direction. It’s incredible to have that expertise and their eyes on your work – a real boost of confidence and great validation.

What does the ‘Co-Labs’ space mean to you?

For me, the space is about getting you in a mindset to create or take risks. The Co-Labs space is a tangible manifestation of the investment that Gap Inc. does in creatives. It’s a place to work and create, but it’s also a place to form and nurture relationships. I don’t think there is anything more important than that for career growth. It’s how you use this space to improve your tactile skills. You have areas where you can work independently, and then vast open spaces where you can collaborate.

We recently kicked off the ’23 holiday season for Athleta in that space. Then the teams broke up into their little pods in space – it feels like a modular place where you can be in a huge group but still have those intimate moments of togetherness.

Megan Carlee, senior designer at Gap.

Megan Carlee – Senior Designer, Gap

How did Gap Inc. supported you as a creative person and employee?

I’ve been working at Gap for three and a half years now. Pretty soon after I started, COVID-19 hit and I think Gap Inc. navigated through it really well in supporting their employees. We realized that we had been working a bit archaic, so we had to adapt and find new solutions. What I really liked about working in a hybrid mode is that it is less regulated. Creativity cannot be forced, so that flexibility is enormous.

How did you get involved in the Create with Audacity movement?

I’ve never been to a company that put so much emphasis on design and creativity. It has to come from the top — it’s easy for anyone at any level to try and foster creativity, but if it’s not embedded in your organization’s culture, it often doesn’t happen.

The opportunities presented by the “Create with Audacity” movement are incredible. For example, I was sent on an inspirational trip to the International Folk Arts Market in Santa Fe with designers from all of our brands — Old Navy, Athleta, Banana Republic. From this I was able to draw inspiration for my work.

I’ve never been to a company that put so much emphasis on design and creativity.

We also recently served as mentors to members of New York City’s Lower East Side Girls Club when they took part in a design challenge. It was great to see how positive they responded – an invigorating experience. Connecting and immersing ourselves in our community, taking the time to be inspired and sharing inspiration with others is what has made this movement possible and has been so rewarding.

What excites you about the future of working at Gap Inc.?

Everyone knows Gap Inc. — we’ve been around for over 50 years. There is a strong heritage and history with the brand that we draw on, but at the same time they are constantly thinking about how to develop it. Whether expanding the portfolio, exploring new collaborations or expanding our product offerings – there are always new and exciting things in the pipeline. Gap Inc. is always looking to draw on its heritage to drive the company forward and stay relevant and current.

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