Archive for Redefining the Office

Designing the mobile worksite

At the close of the last entry I introduced the concept for the first patch when highlighting the benefits of coffee shops and bars as a collaborative work environment in a more mobile/telework business environment.  Over the last two weeks I have visited and worked on this post from a number of local coffee shops during active weekend hours and bars during happy hour.  This allowed me to continue internet research on the changing work day and expansion of mobile work while completing “firsthand”  research on the positives and negative of each as a work site.  In this weeks post I define some of the benefits of working mobile in a less traditional environment and start a list of items that would be necessary when designing a mobile working atmosphere.

To start I mapped out a comparison of hours between a traditional workday and the peak operating times of a coffee shop and bar atmosphere.

Operating Hours -- Business, Coffee, and Happy Hours

Comparing the traditional workday (grey), with popular coffeehouse (purple) and bar happy-hour times (orange).

As this shows, the primary operation of the two businesses are on different ends of the day, allowing their function as a place of collaboration to share one space.  The peak hours allow not only expansion of traditional work hours into off-hour collaboration, but also allow for a work day that shifts earlier or later as the individuals of a more mobile workforce shift hours to meet their personal peak performance times.

Working from this mobile worksite has its advantages to productivity

As detailed by Markham Heid, three different research studies have found through creativity tests that students perform better with ambient coffee shop noises playing in the background (Mens Health).  “Moderate noise slightly disrupts your brain’s ability to process information. And that disruption causes your brain to work at a ‘higher, broader level,’ which in turn enhances ‘abstract cognition,’ or your ability to think creatively.”  So having the soft distractions of a public working environment has been found to raise creativity.

Similarly, when asked to solve verbal puzzles, test subjects with BAC of .075 answered questions faster and correct more often than sober counter parts. (Cassie Shortsleeve, Men’s Health).  With, “puzzles or ‘out of the box’ tasks, relaxation and flexibility—what you’re feeling after a few drinks—can spark creativity.”

Why not just work from home?

While working from home has its advantages (waking up later, more availability to care for young/eldery), there is also the risk for some of becoming shut-ins.  “I’ve heard tales of workshifters who haven’t left their homes for three or more days at a time, because they’ve fallen into the trap of laziness” (Adam Distafano, Work Shifting).  I can attest that there are times in winter that I already will barely leave my apartment on the weekend due to the cold.  Bookend my weekend with some telework days and I could easily never travel more than 20 ft at a time.

Working from home also carries a risk of procrastination or distraction.  It can be very difficult to get work done at home when you can see the pile of dishes in the kitchen or the personal project you’d rather be doing. Having a place to work outside of your home, in a more public environment takes your mind off other responsibilities, allowing you to focus on just the work you brought with you.

Design elements of a mobile work environment

So if our patch is to provide a spot for collaborative mobile work, what are some essentials? The following list was developed through first hand experience and through reviewing Monica Guzman’s article on essentials for morking in a coffee house (GeekWire)

  • Provide good coffee and food –  It doesn’t have to be necessarily quick, but it should be satisfying and not too oily to mess up keyboards and note pads.
  • Consider proximity to home, transit and offices – Where is the mobile workforce coming from and going to?
  • Make it well lit with natural lighting, views, and some plants.  Numerous studies have shown this creates a productive work environment.  Could some urban agriculture be mixed into the design as well to create a stunning indoor environment?
  • Reliable, accessible internet –  Even for the few hours I spent working on this piece you wouldn’t believe the number of times I suddenly couldn’t save updates.  While WiFi is ideal, some well concealed hardwire hot spots would be beneficial for those working extended hours.
  • Outlets, Outlets, OUTLETS – Everyone needs to plug in eventually and nowhere I went had nearly enough.  While splitting time over an outlet is a good way to meet someone new in a collaborative workspace, there needs to be more thought into providing enough outlets that don’t require power cords to be stretch across walkways, creating tripping hazards.
  • Make it stylish- I was surprised at the number of coffee shops that look like a modern office.  Add some pizzazz and create various productive environments.
  • Provide tables that are large enough to hold a laptop, beverage, and cell phone for a team of at least four.  There is nothing worse than gathering to discuss a project and only being able to have one person type notes.
  • Provide less traditional collaborative environments – Have some white boards or areas to draw out ideas for a group.  Just like more than desks are required in an office, provide some vertical surfaces to share.
  • Good, low tunes.  I’m not opposed to having some music in the background but it shouldn’t be so loud that you can have a phone conversation or talk at low volumes with a team.

This is a good starting list of design essentials and ideas for developing this first patch.  For next week I am hoping to review a few urban farming initiatives, assuming I am able to make it over to a local organics facility for a tour — Have a great week!




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.