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 – physical resources, opportunities to interact with other members and attend events that extend skills or make new contacts. The pop-up was organised by KindredHQ – look them up – an 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.

Features of coworking are popping up everywhere

As soon as you start focusing on something, you begin to notice that object/idea/group of people/way of doing things everywhere. Obviously, it has been there in the same quantity and distribution but now these details mean something more.

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The ultimate “pop-up” – in Trafalgar Square

Since looking exclusively at adult workspaces, I have noticed the ideas present in coworking spaces popping up all over the place. Even the idea of “pop-up”s have exploded on to the scene – the year before last this phrase was new and edgy, now it seems to just signal temporary. Unfortunately, such is the fate of new ideas becoming mainstream and less than what might have been originally intended. In the old waiting room in Brighton railway station, there is a new combination of cafe, workspace and waiting room.  The styling is the pleasing blend of industrial vintage and tech – the coffee is barrista brewed, the food a bit gastro-pub and the sitting area provides variety for people waiting and wanting to either relax or work. Of particular note, is the amount of floor space given over to just standing and circulation room. It would be easy to pack in more tables and chairs, but that would lock the space into one type of use over others. 

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New ways are easier in new places

The other evening, I met up with some colleagues from Australia and they reminded me I had visited a school that had introduced a totally different way of approaching the way their staff worked.

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ESSA is in the Manchester region and was a new build. It was also totally online, in the sense that all staff and students worked off iPads and mobile devices. Texts and resources were served up in digital form through large presentation screens and individual devices. The classrooms were equipped with a full range of technologies to support the teaching and learning processes, and the agile physical environment was further enhanced with walls painted with whiteboard finishes, flexible furniture and a variety of storage options. The only place where digital devices were not used was the library containing resources and literature in hard copy. This space was placed in a prominent position, reminding students that all resources were valuable supports for learning.

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All the students and staff were assigned storage lockers. These lockers were placed in a large atrium. Everyone had a locker in this area. Behind reception, in a central part of the building, was a communal cafeteria. Staff worked, met and socialised in this area alongside the students. The space was large, with refectory style tables, and of course the Wifi was fast. There were no staffrooms, and since the entire school was housed under the one roof, staff and students could work anywhere due to the connectivity of the Wifi and the flow of the physical spaces. These way of working was part of the design and processes of this academy from the start.

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By means of contrast, I visited a school in Melbourne a number of years ago. It was a substantial, well established school with plenty of buildings spread across a large property. In one relatively under utilised section of the property a decision had been made to set up a large, open plan work area for staff. It should have worked in the sense that there were sufficient funds to plan an effective design, there were teaching areas nearby and there was one (of a number) library on the floor below. The space was large enough to accommodate a variety of working spaces and activities. However, it was like the Marie Celeste. The staff had not taken up the space. Why? Location was a factor – it was centrally placed but to only one section of the school. The staff had many other alternatives and they chose their traditional haunts. There was no specific reason, pedagogically or social, for introducing the new way of working for staff – no purpose for the change other than it was a new idea for a spare space.

So, it would seem it is easier to introduce new ways of working in a new build. It is easier to design new types of environments in a new build. It is more effective to have a driving purpose for making changes to the ways staff work before introducing them to new environments – new physical conditions support change that is led by people.

HUBbing, Pop-up CoWorking and Jellies

One aim of this project is to experience for myself all the different types of co-working styles and new adult workspaces on offer. Before leaving for London, I visited three different types of adult workspaces in Sydney. One was a HUB, one was a small co-working area and the other was a new office building. Each place had a specific purpose and therefore, design.

HUBs are collaborative workspaces where people buy access memberships (somewhat like a gym). The ImpactHubs have a clear goal at present. This may change over time as the global movement expands through six continents – it currently has over 40 Hubs in the network with many more preparing to open during the next year, and each hosting city tends to put a different spin on their Hub. According to the HUB network, their goals are to inspire, connect and enable independent workers and creatives. A Hub is part innovation lab, part business incubator and part community centre. They offer “ecosystems of resources, inspiration and collaboration opportunities” by supply spaces (that inspire), community through co-working (connection) and events (that engage and enable members).

In my view, opportunities is the key factor. It is all about linking people with like-minded people, who have similar or complementary skills and knowledge, in a physical space in real time. All other types of working can be done from a home office or coffee shop but co-working spaces allow for both the ad hoc collaborative moment and organised opportunity.

The Sydney Hub opened this year and is growing rapidly. It is planning to expand to a second floor of the current building. One great opportunity in the Hub movement, is the chance to involve the membership in activities of designing the space and processes. The membership attracts the tech-heads, the designers and the creatives, so when things need to be planned and designed there is a vast supply of talent onsite. These activities also build business connections and professional opportunities between members volunteering to be involved. In May, I volunteered to help paint the mural in the “play” area. One Saturday was exchanged for the opportunity of meeting some members, local artists and the Hub founders – and the mural has not been painted out yet … which was a relief to see.

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The next place I visited was an organisation’s new accommodation in an old warehouse. The design was sensitive to the historical fabric of the building, as well as the needs of clients visiting the organisation and those who worked daily within the building. The architects had solved the problem of needing privacy for confidential worktasks, whilst fostering connection between the employees. The offices were placed side by side, back to back along a central spine. The rear connecting walls of each office were glass. The corridors ran around the outside of this central block – allowing for enjoyment of natural light and a view for everyone. Catering facilities were distributed throughout the building but there was also one large kitchen/lounge area that ensured everyone could meet and eat and work together in one space.

The small co-working space I visited was modest in design and size but still captured the essence of co-working. It was placed in the central shopping street and had all of the necessary facilities of internet connectivity, toilets, kitchenette and variety of table configurations. It was also aware of the drawcard of membership. By this I mean, these spaces are different to hot-desking and casual desk rental because of the type of person who choses to work in these environments. They want a creative environment and the opportunity to spin off other people’s ideas, skills and energy, without missing out on the all the practical services of an office space. If you do not attract the right mix of members, the space will be affected. Corner Table is currently thinking through the sectors it wants for members. Some co-working spaces specialise in tech start-ups, others attract designers and digital/web companies and others are targetting social enterprises. The ideal is probably a combination of all of these, with some creatives and freelancers thrown in. At the heart of the mix, is creating opportunities amongst like-minded and like-skilled people, who want to focus on work and their businesses but not spend the entire week alone or isolated.

I have also paid for a one-day Hot Desk experience. The space had many more permanent members, so there was a distinct difference between the casual desk user and the permanent residents. The permanent residents had been allowed to move in lots of personal equipment and resources and had desks against the wall. Their spaces changed the ambience of the coworking environment. There was also a lot more socialising and chat going on between the regulars, which made concentrating difficult. Hot desks were also the worst ones in the room – limited power, in the walkways, worst chairs and no privacy (in comparison to permanents’ areas) – but these coworking offices need permanent membership to remain viable. I was reminded on the importance of space management to ensure fair and equitable access for everyone.

enspiral transport

Now to some London co-working locations …

KingsCross Hub

The space at Kings Cross is well planned and incredibly flexible, even though it is not that big. It is a complete building, and when the Hub moved in, the space was just a shell. This enabled them to design everything from scratch and with a fantastic fabric of old industrial architecture. Membership is large and managed by a full time team of staff. Events are opportunities of drawing in new members, skilling up existing members and giving members opportunities to network and share their expertise. The ambience of the space creates a feeling of working in the presence of people but not at the frenetic pace of a high-powered office. The demographics were diverse in age, gender and background training, and the hosting team is constantly monitoring the balance of tech/digital, social enterprise, designer and freelance balance.

cafe and open workspace

The Busworks and KindredHQ Pop-up and going to a Jelly in Hackney

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Basically, there is little difference between a pop-up and a Jelly. Strictly speaking, a Jelly is a free event hosted informally just about anywhere the host can guarantee a basic level of facilities will be provided, but even that is changing with Jellies being hosted in parks. A Jelly is a get-together of people working – a nomadic workers flash mob. A pop-up usually comes with the expectation that it you are getting one-off access to a fully equiped working space, but like with Jellies, this definition is constantly being challenged by new ideas and new ways of doing things. The important thing to remember is that they are informal, irregular but always aim at creating working opportunities. They are not the most reliable way of making regular contacts nor finding a spare desk. However, with all types of co-working spaces, how well attended will depend on the type of people attracted to the opportunity and perception on the “cool scale”. But for a nomad researcher from Sydney, they are a blessing in terms of shelter/seating/table/wifi and an interesting way of seeing the city and meeting different people.

A P.S. Comment: As I just typed that subheading, I was struck by the new language of the co-working movement. Must remember not to drown the concept with jargon, acronyms and “in the know” phrases – works counter to the goal of collaborating.

Here is a link to the two sites –

http://www.busworks.co.uk

http://www.spacestudios.org.uk/whats-on/events/jelly