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.

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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.

islington hub

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.

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.

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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

Start-ups, incubators and coworking in the tech world

I visited Campus London near Finsbury. It is a coworking space sponsored by Google and Central Working – well, that’s the cafe area. The rest of the complex is devoted to start-ups, fostering social enterprises, hosting events and courses that will equip entrepreneurs with skills and contacts necessary to launch themselves and their enterprises. The focus is on technology and digital industries but freelancers and designers are also welcomed into the fold. The space provides power outlets, toilets, outdoor space, tables, stools and chairs. WiFi is free and the cafe serves good coffee and food. No one is precious about mixing liquids with laptops – after all, you supply your own technology, so an incident becomes your problem.

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The day I worked in the space, it was packed. Around 100 people were working on their own projects and businesses – all day people came and went. Sometimes people helped each other with a bit of technical information or tips on running the business side of their enterprise, but in the main it had the intense and competitive feeling of a university library in the week before final exams – if your idea does not work, then you might lose out to the person across the room. Surprisingly, the noise level was quite tolerable but the constant movement around the cafe and toilets was distracting – people working in this area were always keeping an eye open for a vacant seat further down the room. There is no prebooking of facilities in this workspace – you just have to wing it every time you visit.

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Trend spotting in central London

Being in the centre of London has reminded me how cloistered the world of a teacher is during the workday. We may stay connected to the world through technology but are usually physically remote from the world that passes outside the school gates. Due to this isolation, teachers have not been part of the new ways of working that are evident in the heart of busy cities and urban areas. People are on the go. They do not need to wait inside their office block or sit behind a desk at their street address. Meetings are taking place in coffee shops, hotel foyers and temporary workspaces. People meet over their phones and laptops, and when the meeting is done, they can log straight back into their personal work tasks.

While this may generate too much multi-tasking and an even busier work schedule than ever, the trends have an element of dynamic energy that can engage people more actively in their work. Flexibility and a sense of choice over how to manage your tasks can give autonomy and a greater sense of independence in your work day. Obviously these trends do not suit all types of work, but they are rapidly becoming part of the way creatives and knowledge workers are doing business.

My hotel is a great example of the new style of design that blends living, holidaying and working into one environment. The entire property is serviced by effective WiFi connectivity. The decor is subdued but luxurious in terms of finish and fabric. The public areas flow into one another, so foyers can be meeting areas and corridors places to read or drink coffee. All the spaces have mulitple purposes and have only a few prompts to signal their primary function. The public areas are numerous and spread throughout the lower floors – however, within the spaces furniture is clustered into small groupings so that you can still maintain personal conversations or sit/work alone without being crowded by stangers. Lighting directs people to areas – brighter lighting for areas where the hotel wants you to sit, read, dine informally and more subdued lighting in areas where they want people to move through.

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