Blogging and WordPress

Social media, blogging and wikis are all part of co-working and collaborative work trends

For the last morning I had signed up for a WordPress course. Even though I already use this freeware, my aim was to start from the beginning with the basics just to check I was missing anything key in my set-up. I also got to take a second look at Campus London (powered by Google in the new tech city). a hackathon was taking place as part of incubator strategies used to talent or product spot.

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Our group was far more sedate but within a short period of time people were sharing and swapping intel about anything from a good accountant to latest plug-in for testing the security of your plug-ins. We were also shown data mining tools that can give you detailed feedback on your site and how users interact with it (or failed to interact with it).

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Very quickly the simple path of setting up a wordpress.com exploded into this enormous web. However, as with so many things I have seen in the past two weeks, you can start with a very simple plan. The most significant element has been the power of human interactions. In most instances, the adults were not members of the same organisation but were still making productive contributions to one another’s individual projects. Some of these friendly collaborations and associations had been going on for years. I was also shown how influential LinkedIn had become in creating a new directory of organisations and individuals – it was used substantially in the workplaces I visited.

P.S.Comment: Facebook barely rated a mentioned and a page was usually maintained for the sake of the consumer. Tweets was more common. At the conference, I sat behind one man who spent an hour taking photos of himself “listening” to the presentations and then posting them and other photos of himself networking during morning tea. At one point he had a laptop, a smartphone and an iPad connected up dispatching posts and tweeting about his day at the conference. A little too extreme for regular self-promotion?

 

An Eames chair – yes, I did go to a workplace that had loads of them!

Today I visited the View at the Shard – fantastic views from the centre of Southwark (and a wonderfully historic cathedral to visit as well).

the shard

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Lend Lease (yes, the Australian property development company) has established an impressive European HQ at Regent Place. They occupy three floors in a new corporate precinct and have based their design on the theory of activity-based workplaces. It was both beautiful and very smart in the decisions that have been made. The CEO and all of the  leadership team have desks and workspaces in the open place desk area. I will let the images speak for themselves.

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… and they do have desk areas (note the proliferation of vegetation -very controversial in the world of office design due to cost of upkeep) and bright surfaces to ensure strong, even light for all desks.

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ABWs, co-working, hot-desking, collaboration in four days

Today I get to see some glitzy workplaces – the Shard and the Lend Lease HQ. But before I go off to be impressed by these places, I thought I would reflect on this week.

I experienced co-working with KindredHQ, talked with two hosts from Islington and Westminster hubs, had a very insightful conversation with a researcher from the Design Council, visited a private enterprise that is a co-working space in Eastbourne and attended a full day conference on workplace trends. In four days I have had the opportunity to sample some of the experiences that are offered in co-working and collaborative spaces, glimpsed the enormous range of options that are emerging as co-working and activity-based spaces and most importantly, talked to many people about working in these new spaces and ways.

I was reminded in my conversation with Ed Gardiner, from the Design Council, that we need to be asking the right questions and identifying the real problem before leaping into designing the solutions. The heart of the problem may not lie where you think it is, so intervention will not bring about the change you desire. Ed commented that in his experience, the educational sector (and in particular, school sector) did not approach the Design Council looking for assistance with designing solutions to problems in this sector, whilst other similar industries like health and justice had. The workplace conference continued with the same theme – ask the right question before seeking the solution. Especially when shaping workplaces and spending millions of dollars (they actually all spoke in terms of pounds and square feet) on real estate, you do not get many opportunities to change direction once committed to a certain path.

The conference had 220 delegates (most were from the UK and Europe) from the property, design, human resources, architectural and research sectors. The only section of the educational sector represented (other than me) was Higher Education, and there main focus was the construction of university campus cities and the new breed of interactive spaces. A day of 45 minute presentations from researcher and architectural firms, exploring the new activity-based-work environments and practices. One delegate ran a blog during the day – so check it out if you are interested: http://www.workessence.com. The blogger was a very witty guy, who gave the plenary address in verse.

My London experiences of shared workspaces

I feel like Alice – I have dived down a rabbit hole into a world that resembles my own but is clearly different. Without wanting to labour the rabbit analogy, I must say it is more like a warren. Everyday I follow a new tunnel into the world of adult co-working. I think it will take a long time to sort out all the information and experiences, not to mention work out what to do with this understanding of adult workspaces and worktrends. However, I think it is worthwhile to sort out a few key gleanings from these weeks before the impressions flee from my mind or are supplanted with new impressions and more websites.

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Gleaning #1: co-working is not hot-desking.

Current trends are falling into a number of patterns. New spaces are choosing between a model that seek a set up that fosters co-working – which is working in the same space of other businesses (usually freelancers, sole operators, small groups from remote companies) with the chance of collaboration between associates and colleagues in similar industries. Share the space, the coffee breaks and conversations or don’t. It is not one organisation that occupies the space, so there is no company culture just the necessary etiquette to make a space workable for everyone. The benefits are two-fold: access to resources that the average start-up or freelancer can afford and human interaction. The chance for conversation and assistance with your business comes with the physical space.

The other trend is simply just to the physical resources of an established office, somewhat like using a hotel. At its simplest level, it is a hot-desk and at its most complex is access to a full suite of office resources and support services. The benefit involves the portability of your office space. As the access to global markets increases, small and big businesses look for cost savings while still allowing for physical contact with clients and customers. You do not know where you will next do business, so access to an office no longer has to come in the form of coffee shops, hotel foyers and airport lounges.

Co-working spaces still have the hot-desking model as a way of allocating their resources but rather than ensuring the isolation of each space user, these spaces guarantee interaction as one of their resources. The people are a resource to each other and to the space. It is a very human way of living but not necessarily a very natural way of doing business. The people in the space are colleagues in the world of work, not clients (eventhough very profitable relationships have been struck up in these places). Trust and a mutual expectation that people give away some of their skill and time to promote others are the cornerstones of these co-working environments.

Co-working is not collaboration in the strictest sense of work practice. Collaboration in a world of work focuses on the teamwork approach typical of design thinking. One would usually do it from within an organisation or as part of a business-client team or with identified associates. Setting up the projects is not serendipitous and usually a deliberate strategy for solving a problem or completing a project. Co-working can supply the serendipitous element to individual working as it uses collaborative approaches of bringing together people in the one physical space, sharing resources and time. However, the individual is working on their own project, drawing in resources from the environment and typically the online world.

Incubators and start-ups are another take on the co-working and collaborative environments. The focus here is upon accelerating the development of new ideas, businesses and products, thus encouraging enterprises to make it to the marketplace as quickly as possible. Campus London is one such place.

So, where might these notions and work practices fit into the work world of the teacher? How might they find their way into the way we organise teacher workspaces? Are we already doing these things but by other names?

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Gleaning #2: people are integral to the co-working movement

Physical spaces are the stage, the behavioural setting for human work and interaction. Therefore, what co-working really relies upon for a deeper experience is people. People host, turn up to the space to model work and share, people maintain the property, people bring in people. People who co-work are usually happy to be nomadic but not isolated – if everyone plays their part, there will be people there to meet, assist and ask for help. You can work alone but there is feeling that there is a chance you may just miss out on that great conversation that will lead to a breakthrough in your own work.

Spaces like the Impact Hubs, structurally operate like membership co-working spaces but are conceptually driven by a spirit of collaboration. I visited all three Hubs in London, and while each one looks different and has a different membership profile, they all demonstrate the influence of effective hosting. The collaborative spirit is constantly reinforced and enabled by the hosting team, who are present in the space during opening hours.
Gleaning #3: Do not be beguiled by an aesthetically beautiful space – ask, is there any life behind the facade?

Apologies that my blog is not overflowing with photographs of fantastic buildings, awe inspiring interiors, spaces that make you envious of the so, so beautiful Eames chair. Designers and architects can take care of that for you or take a virtual tour of “I wish I worked there” offices.

I have been spending most of my time talking to the people working in the spaces I have been visiting. The ideas behind the design and the brief the physical space was seeking to address have been far more important. I did visit a fabulous building today, the recently completed Royal College of General Practitioners on Euston Road. It was the location for the Workplace Trends Conference, but the building itself was a great example of what the conference was talking about all day. It was a bespoke design, seeking to address the needs of a large membership and specific needs for clinical examinations. The building was also listed, so the design had to take into account the historical elements of its Edwardian wing whilst designing a structure for the new century. Of course, it cost a fortune to bring it up to the desired standard of finish but the concepts behind the way in which people moved through the building and made use of incidental spaces for key activities can be translated to other projects.

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So, if money is stopping you prioritising teacher workspaces, think again. It costs less cash than you think to redesign a teacher workspace/ environment. It is about the way people think about work – it about connecting the right people with the plan and then focusing on a few key physical environment drawcards. The other resources needed to complete the work environment, schools would already provide – they might just need some reconfiguring and repurposing.

A “mind the gap” moment

Don’t be deceived that all teachers are already skilled collaborators and co-workers. Much of our work looks like we do but have we fully grasped it as a way thinking as employees?

Most education as a work environment is still under the influence of the corporate-business administration model. My own masters degree is in educational leadership AND administration, which emphasised many of the approaches that shaped and succeeded in the corporate world. Some aspects of the courses challenged the relevance and appropriateness of these tools and strategies but genuine alternatives were thin on the ground. There is still a disconnect between leadership training to lead the business and the training to lead the learning. The first still belongs to commercial values and organisational structures and the later to the new pedagogies of collaboration, design thinking and collective construction of knowledge. Administration seeks order through systems and processes and the emerging educational paradigm seeks to create by disrupting and exploring new paths. I am yet to be convinced that teacher preparation courses are addressing this divide between the work of administration and teaching, let alone preparing teachers to be collaborative co-workers. If they do, it is still not enough and needs to go beyond the collaborative exercises of preparing a unit of work or the professional experience. What teachers need to know is how to work with other adults in a sustained, complex way.

In the past two weeks, I have spoken to many people not from the world of education but from businesses that either have a social impact focus or an enterprise focus (or both). Many are working independently or in small companies. As they move into more collaborative and activity-based ways of working, they are learning the skills and ways of working with other colleagues because they can see an immediate benefit to their work goals. I guess a key difference is that they are not having to work collaboratively within a huge range of externally imposed structures and constraints.

Different models and different spaces for co-working

Week 2 and I continued visiting a range of co-working spaces in Central London. However, before coming back from my seaside weekend in Brighton (gale force winds, squadrons of seagulls, huge seas, drenching rain and more cakes than I have ever seen in the one postcode – apparently a full dose of the English weather & holiday fun) I paid a visit to the new co-working space in Eastbourne. Take up amongst the self-employed, established tech community has been excellent, thus ensuring a solid financial base for the space to survive and grow – according to the owner a particular success since co-working is new to the area and the town does not have a huge freelance community at the moment. The space is well appointed with a brand new fit out – meeting room, large central desk area with both casual and permanent desk occupancy, loads of natural light, an outdoor terrace, open plan kitchen area and secure building. It is located next to the railway station and central shopping area. At the moment the space is not hosted but there are plans to grow this aspect of the co-working approach, and establishing some long-term members will encourage greater “buy in” from the community.

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Back in London, I visited another Impact Hub – this time at Islington. This Hub is similar and different to other ones in the network. It was busy and fitted out like other communities focusing on freelancers/self employed individuals who want to make an impact in some way. The Hub provides a place (that is not home) to work and opportunities to connect with other like-minded businesses. Key to the space is the hosting team – the team that does everything from property management to office manager to spotting opportunities for connections and innovation. The faciities are on the top floor of an old commercial area – plenty of natural light from skylights, a range of working tables (in a variety of configurations) and sitting areas and a separate meeting room that can be booked. Membership is diverse and reflects the context in which the Hub exists (both in terms of demographics, profiles of local business, levels of support and funding available).

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I then attended a pop-up co-working event @ WorkHubs. It is a newish space that aims to support freelance, small businesses or companies that do not require permanent daily accommodation. It provides a complete business  environment Рphysical resources, opportunities to interact with other members and attend events that extend skills or make new contacts. The pop-up was organised by KindredHQ Рlook them up Рan organisation that focuses on co-working and networking for freelancers and people working on their own enterprises. The conversations around the table were fantastic.

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A P.S. Comment: the art of hosting and the use of humour are evident and have a powerful influence on the interaction between the spaces and those who use them. Avoid the passive aggressive signage that springs from exhaustion on part of the “volunteer” employee who has had enough or someone who cannot face unpredictable situations. Set up the space with clear prompts, expect variable standards of tidiness/attention to detail, deal directly with specific difficulties and use some wit (not sarcasm) to encourage the preferred way of doing things.