Mind the Gap – form driving function and the cool factor

Days 1 and 2 of this London trip were spent doing a long-haul flight, however, the time was not wasted. For the sake of this project, I watched “The Internship” – a story where a pair of out-of-work salesmen, who become summer interns at Google HQ in San Francisco. I chose the film for a look inside the Google workplace – and there it was, the ultimate creative work environment with vivid colours, gadgets, interesting workspaces, funky flexible furniture, fun places to think and play, nap pods and populated with the brightest IT crowd. However, the 24/7 work playground comes with strings attached – Google is watching for the next innovation, the next product, the next genius. The purpose of this environment is to generate future business opportunities and accelerate product design. No guessing the end of the story – human relationships and genuine collaboration are the elements that make all the difference.

So, which gap do we need to mind? The subtext behind the environment and a reliance on form driving function. An environment that will support the work of the organisation is a vital precondition for success. Google embodies the notion of innovation combined with driving focus. They have thoughtfully branded technology as being witty, accessible and desirable through their physical environments and online presence (think about the changing graphics on their search page). However, behind the environment is a carefully focused business with clear strategies for staying on top of their business. The employees may look like they inhabit a utopian workplace but what the company brings to the workplace will not be enough. The working relationships between the employees are vital to the success of the company.

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A P.S. Comment:
After spending time at Campus London, I can see the “cool” factor has great pull. If it is the place to be seen and be noticed, then the co-working place will be packed. I had to start out on pieces of furniture that had style over function (note to self – desklettes with wheels and crazy shaped seats may look great but make sure they have a predictable/stable footprint when you lean forward) and then”upgrade” my position as people left. By the end I was a success in a very cool crowd – two lounge chairs and a coffee table in the cafe zone, but it did take an hour of space hopping and upgrading 🙂 There is an awkwardness that comes with working in this type of coworking environment – there are no hotdesk or permanent desk arrangements in the cafe (you can buy a resident membership, which gives you a guaranteed space on one of the other 7 floors). When the cafe is as full as it was today, it would be difficult to focus on your work and people looked uncomfortable when hunting for a spare seat or powerpoint – the rules of negotiation were not clear and there were certainly some dominant personalities in the room today.

KingsCross Hub, just across the road from megalopolis station, most definitely has the cool factor. The space is urban, ecco-chic with a reminder that its focus membership is social enterprise. With a membership of 300+ and a daily attendance capacity of 120, it is working well.

By contrast I attended a pop-up coworking event in Islington. The people were more friendly, the space was cleaner and far better maintained, the space was quiet but it just wasn’t popular. The Jelly event at Hackney was more popular – it had the feeling of a well equipped community college and people came during the day to work on projects but with little interaction.

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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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