Archive for June 2012

Where we work

Laptop. Power cord. Bluetooth. Blackberry. Mouse. Project Files.

Today is my last day in the office for the week.  While I strategically chose to live less than a mile from my office (I don’t want to own a car in the city. Its not an environmentalist thing. Its a lazy, too young, and immature for the commitment mentality), with teleworking to start and end each week, I don’t plan to be back in the office until Tuesday.  Each week I spend 4-5 days away, being vastly more productive working from home or at project sites.

I’m not alone in spending this little time in my office. The organization I work for has committed to telework/mobile work to try it to reduce our office space and utility costs.  Everyone who chooses to use telework sees their own benefit in it.  For many its the time, money, and frustration saved by not having to commute for a couple days.  Others are able to spend more time with family members they are caring for (young or old). For me, its working next to an open window and away from the distractions of an office environment.  Whatever the reason for trying liking it, it seems normal now to spend only a few days in the traditional office setting.

It fascinates me to think about how this will change physical and urban patterns as increases in teleworking and mobile work ripple across our society. As Matthew Yglesias points out in his article in Slate this week, it isn’t a question of having the technology to spend more time out of the office. “Digital technology—email and smartphones most of all—have vastly improved workers’ capacity to be productive outside of a traditional office.” (Matthew Yglesias, Slate). I have always carried my cell phone home, answering emails and calls well outside my working hours, and often taking advantage of a silent weekend hour to complete a project on my laptop. It’s a question of shifting how we use tools to work together to collaborate on projects. Eventually, I can even see it leaking further away from the restrictive work environment, more openly allowing me to shift my working hours to when I am more productive (Right when I wake up is my best time, be it 4:00 a.m. or 9:00 some of my most inspired, creative moments come when I spring out of a deep sleep) and having more of my team meetings in less traditional locations.

Last week I cited a quote from Tony Hsieh, ”When you’re in a city, the bar or the restaurant becomes an extended conference room” (Leigh Gallagher, Fortune Magazine).  The more I think about that, I wonder how telework and mobile work increase the importance of non-traditional meeting sites.  The coffee shop isn’t just a spot where I will stop in for a quick off-site chat, but needs to be available for team collaboration while being quite enough to take a conference call. Happy hours even become more important.  While they have always been a part of how business gets done, they will increasingly carry more importance as they provide rare face-time. As the city is transformed to be our office, our expectations of service environments change as they will need to create a more perfect environment.

The coffee shop and bar are the greatest examples of where I see potential in creating the non-office business environment.  They provide a social setting where work already gets done. Also, their peak business hours hardly overlap, so they can operate out of the same establishment.  By day, a high end coffee shop, providing a quite, collaborative environment for teams, meetings, or calls.  By night, a little more social environment to lose the tie and enjoy a drink, while still discussing new business potentials and direction. One space, more operating hours, while creating a comfortable yet productive work environment. Through a slight transformation in what either currently is, this will be the first site that I will explore in the next few entries, to see how a high end coffee shop and bar can better meet changing professional environment needs while becoming more sustainable through other symbiotic urban relationships.


Second Act

With the recovery in motion I have seen a few intriguing ideas on how startups will reshape cities. These range from creating whole new cities or city centers aimed at housing a common type of startup to using crowd sourcing to identify community needs, be it a service or amenity.  On the new city side I have seen two very different approaches based on whether the it’s a completely new office park, operating around existing regulations or a new startup community as an extension of existing infrastructure.

Blueseed, commonly referred to as the “Googleplex of the sea,” is a concept funded by Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal, which anchors a ship in international waters to house a ‘Silicon Valley-esc’ offshore startup community.  The benefit of housing the startups in international waters is it will create a visa-free community, speeding up the international recruitment of engineers for companies that would otherwise be located in the U.S. (Chris Taylor, Mashable)

Blueseed Cruise Ship

There are a number of concept designs provided by Blueseed to give an idea what this startup paradise may look like, range in design from standard cruise ship to high tech barge (Scheduled for launch late 2013, early 2014, so a final design has not yet been released).  Blueseed will provide its residents offices, residential space, wifi-access, 24-hour cafes, and a full gym.

Blueseed High Tech Barg

While Blueseed creates a separatist new community for startups, Tony Hsieh has a slightly different concept of creating a New Urbanist community in downtown Las Vegas, “to turn the overlooked area into a neighborhood not just for his workers’ coffee breaks, but a new live/work/play destination for Las Vegas’ emerging creative class” (Leigh Gallagher, Fortune Magazine). With moving Zappo’s headquarters into the downtown area, Hsieh is investing to create a community where his employees and their families will be able to live, work, go to school, and thrive.

With a $350 million investment, Tony Hsieh is investing in real estate, tech startups, small businesses, and education to establish downtown Las Vegas as a place people will want to love and work.  Using Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City (Next on my personal reading list), along with New Urbanist concepts, Hsieh’s group has developed a list of musts for a perfect city, including jazz fest, beer garden, wine/cheese store, hybrid e-school, and yoga (Kimberly Schaefer, Downtown Project).  While Zappo’s intends to move their headquarters by 2013, I haven’t found concept drawings for the redevelopment of Downtown Las Vegas yet.

What I find most intriguing about Tony Hsieh’s approach is that it both revives an existing community and recognizes the need for investment in the local community for business success. “When you’re in a city, the bar or the restaurant becomes an extended conference room” (Leigh Gallagher, Fortune Magazine).

The final approach to rebuilding community comes from the other end of the spectrum.  Rather than being a business led approach, it completely relies on community input.  Neighborland is a project launched in New Orleans that uses crowd sourcing to identify what the local community desires.  Using a large sticker with “I want ____ in my neighborhood” community members are able to write in what they feel is missing, opening up lines for communication on how to make improvements possible (Neighborland Handbook).  These ideas are then posted on line to discuss how to make these a reality (See New Orleans concepts here).

While these are three very different approaches to the development of cities, they show how startups, be it business or community driven, are reshaping cities and what we commonly understand as cities.  These will create new connections and new opportunities to make the businesses and their communities more cross-reliant finding connections between them to cut costs and improve results.

Next week’s entry is planned to be the first in which Patchopolis will explore urban agriculture and will begin to explore a startup concept of its own to better serve as a site for collaboration among community members.