Work is not a place

I wanted Scott Berkun to call his upcoming book “Work is Not a Place,” but alas, he’s going with “The Year Without Pants” — still a good one.

The idea is this: many “knowledge jobs” are not about physically being somewhere, they’re about accomplishing something. Yes, for many jobs, place is crucial: construction, medicine, etc. But in the magical new land of computery-pixel-pushers, it ain’t about being located somewhere, it’s about craft.

The amazing company I work for, Domain7, lets me work from my home office in Kelowna. I find the setting really helps me find get immersed in the problem-solving, creative zones much faster than when I work in a shared space. It works for me — I’m used to this style of work-alone working (I was homeschooled, y’see.). Others hate working from home, and find it counterproductive. I get to visit the D7 team about once-a-month for a fun explosion of client and team meetings to feed the social side of things, and get a face-to-face fix.

For those in an office, then, how do we adjust our spaces to better suit the work we’re all trying to do? Our offices need to flex to our needs as humans, if we’re going to still work in shared spaces. How can our minds be encouraged to be used well? How can our plant-like introverts be given the mix of water-and-soil needed to thrive? How can we dive into the watery world of writing, coding, dreaming, designing, thinking and making, and pick places to DO that work that facilitate our best work?

Gervais Tompkin from Genslor provides some great perspectives on this, with a post called The Challenges We Face in Open Offices. (I love that architecture firms like Vancouver’s Kasian and Genslor help solve problems like office configurations, based on true human needs.) Watching the videos on Tompkin’s post, courtesy of Microsoft’s Global Workplace Strategies, explains the use of their own open-style offices suggests.

Reverse engineering these videos offers these principles that open offices need to have:

  1. A hub: A public space to work for a change of pace, where you’re working, but it’s okay to be interrupted. You work here when you want a mix of socializing with your working.
  2. Phone rooms and focus rooms: A place to take private or longer calls, and to focus on specific in-depth tasks
  3. Etiquette: A common understanding of when to use the rooms, the hubs, and when to stay at your desk
  4. Desk clusters: The places you work, near others, but shielded enough to support productive work.

One of my favourite workspaces I’ve visited in Metro Vancouver is the SFU Surrey campus. Filled with breakout rooms, beautiful windows, and private work areas, you always feel like any resource you need is waiting for you.

The cube farm is dying, which is great. But as open-concept offices continue to flourish, we need to be careful they are designed right, to promote connectivity, privacy as well as creativity, not just the overload of stimuli that can sometimes come.

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