The future of work, today

I’ve got some real estate. Here in my bag.

by Paul Carder on August 22, 2017

by @paulcarder

“America”, (Simon & Garfunkel, 1968)

Let us be lovers,
We’ll marry our fortunes together.
I’ve got some real estate
Here in my bag.

Whatever meaning you may attribute to this beautiful song, to me it reflects a very human feeling of searching, of travelling….of movement even. The need to ‘get away’, to explore, and find new things. Perhaps, to find meaning.

[without getting too political, “to look for America” will be a quest troubling many people right now! One cannot help think Paul Simon will feel more empty and aching now even than in the song.]

Who needs real estate? Who needs more than a bag, a pack of cigarettes, one of Mrs. Wagner’s pies, to walk off and look for America? …a bottle of water perhaps. And obviously a smartphone.

Imagine the words of the song now, almost 50 years later:

“Kathy”, I said,
As we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
have you got a good WiFi signal?

The cashless, wireless kid on the Greyhound bus today, off “to look for America” has very different real estate in his or her bag. You will have seen the graffiti’d amendment to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with WiFi added as the new basic need above all others…it feels like that sometimes.

Providing she has money in the bank, somewhere in the world, and a WiFi signal on the smartphone, she can acquire all manner of ‘real estate’ …fleetingly, temporarily, for a few hours or a few days.

Counting the cars
On the New Jersey Turnpike

The contemporary young Simon, and his Kathy, have no need of a car. They can ‘buy’ an Uber for a few minutes when they need it. Or hire a car for a few days, to drive up the coast perhaps. They can ‘buy’ an AirBnB room for a night, or a week. Or a whole house, for all their friends to meet. Real estate, in the bag, on the iPhone.

Now they want to work like this too…..

And why not? If you live like this, why not work like this too? It is the sharing economy, the experience economy. Owning things is for your parents. Smart people are now buying memories, not ‘stuff’.

The technologists are busy creating platforms and Apps for us to book anything, almost anytime, and almost anywhere. Their business developers are connecting all manner of assets with their Apps …putting the customer together with whatever they need, when they need it.

Early pioneers of corporate real estate used to say most organizations are ‘in real estate’ by default. Not any longer.

Every year, there is less need for any organization to be ‘in real estate’ in any way at all.

Corporate and commercial real estate operators may all be working for ‘booking platforms’ before much longer. A few organizations will still build their own HQ, and hold a few leases on ‘core’ parts of the portfolio. But everything else will surely be ‘bookable’.

Every Monday morning will be a little like that young couple on the Greyhound bus; a journey, a new day, a new place (or favourite old place). Somewhere you want to go, with people you want to be with. If you are a knowledge-worker, of course. If your work is talking, creating, writing, and connected to a device.

I hope. And we all need that right now.

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Try the 4-4-2 fortnight

by Paul Carder on January 8, 2016

by @paulcarder

This has nothing to do with football (soccer). That’s lost a few people who found this via Google search!

I have mentioned this a few times in presentations and various seminars, but realized that I have not actually written it down. So here goes…

Very simple: 4 days a fortnight in “the office” (provided by your employer; where you are probably “based”), 2 days a fortnight working at home, and 4 days a fortnight in some “third place”. The latter is what really interests me. “Third places” can be a whole variety of places, some specifically designed and marketed for working at, and others used for working and a mixture of other activities.

The 4-4-2 fortnight seems to me to be a proxy for what is happening amongst corporate-employed knowledge workers. The numbers will vary, over different weeks, but I’d like to bet that there are many professionals, managers, sales staff and others who are pretty much doing this right now.

There are some roles (not many) which are stuck at 10-0-0. They are at their contractual ‘place of work’ every day. They have no chance to work from home, or anywhere else. Those of us who are fortunate to have the flexibility to manage our own diary, travel, and work in a variety of places, we rely on the “anchor” go-to people on 10-0-0 fortnights. We all rely on Karen in my cluster at UWE Bristol, as we know Karen is in the office, and generally knows what is going on. We have a large team, no secretaries (remember them?) but one very good Exec PA, Karen.

There are home-based workers who, let’s say, come into the office once a week, and are therefore at 2-0-8. So, for 8 days in the fortnight they do not use the corporate office, do not need a desk, and in return do not suffer the commute in and out of wherever. Their commute is lengthened only by walking the children to school, or stopping off to buy a coffee. No trains, planes and automobiles for them…most days anyway.

For a great short film (<5 mins) see Two Lives by WorkplaceTV on YouTube. It is a funny, but absolutely correct, interpretation of two work days – one commuting, the other working at home.

Where is everyone else on this simple spectrum?

Some people don’t like working from home, for a variety of reasons (they get bored, lonely, feel disconnected, worried their work will not be recognized, etc.). For some, therefore, the 10-0-0 is a preference. I had that situation for about one year, when my company moved offices out of London and only six miles from my house. For once, I was ‘in’ nearly every day, and never worked from home. Others just like the routine, or even the ‘time-out’ on their commute. I have a friend who commutes 1.5 hours each way, every day, to and from London. He reads a lot of books! He wouldn’t change that. He loves the ‘buzz’ of London, and his office (where he gets up to all sorts of mischief) but he wouldn’t live in London. So he enjoys reading a lot.

NearDesk – “a million people working near home one day per week”

I share the vision of Tom Ball, CEO and founder of Neardesk.com, to get “a million people working near home one day per week”. Or more, perhaps?

For many people, working at home is either not an option (“home” is too small, or shared, or busy/noisy) or not a preferred option, for the reasons stated above. But neither is commuting ‘preferable’, for reasons of time, stress, cost, or environmental consciousness (which is only going to increase, with commitments made by world leaders in Paris recently).

Working near home could be a win-win for all parties: employers, governments and the working population.

Tom’s vision could be described as 8-2-0. Or, 8 days a fortnight in the corporate office, and 2 days working nearer to home. Then there are many people for whom one day a week at home is fine – not too isolating or boring. Then we get to 6-2-2. And so it goes on… all permutations are possible!

Try the 4-4-2 fortnight, and do let us know how it went!

Try it with your team.

Sit down with the team and explain the idea. Tell them they can work at home. Or at some “third place” (companies like Near Desk can provide many options, and issue cards to your team members which allow them to be charged for the time they use).

What is your team average before you start? Doubt it is 10-0-0. Most teams have someone working occasionally at home, or somewhere else.

The challenge is to get the first number in the sequence down from 10! 8-1-1 may be an initial target? That equates to one day a fortnight at home, and one day a fortnight in a third-place. Across a team, some people may work at home, and some in a third-place, once a week…the number comes out the same of course.

I wonder who will get to 4-4-2 first. Whoever does, depending on distance (!) I will gladly come to your office with chilled champagne…albeit, you will not all be ‘in’ the office 🙂

Paul

paul.carder@occupiersjournal.com

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A huge coworking hub in middle-America

by Paul Carder on November 30, 2015

The marketing blurb for Timothy Sprinkle’s 2015 book, “Screw the Valley“, says:

The most exciting high-tech startups are escaping the expensive and inbred environment of Silicon Valley. Welcome to the future.

Really? To where? …NYC? – yes. Austin, TX? – well, yes, less obvious maybe to those outside the US, but it is a fairly popular place. …Kansas City? …really?

The 2015 book’s blurb continues:

Entrepreneurs know they must embrace innovation to excel—starting with where they locate their new venture. Fortunately, budding companies seeking fertile ground have more options today than ever before. Screw the Valley calls on today’s entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners to forget California and explore other options across the country—cities that offer more room to breathe, easier access to funding and talented workers, fewer heads to butt, and less money down the drain

Timothy Sprinkle visits seven areas that “offer a superior landscape for tech startups” – Detroit, New York City, Las Vegas, Austin, Kansas City, Raleigh-Durham, and Boulder. He explains “the startup potential” in each city, detailing which industries are thriving where, and highlighting “the unique appeal and character of each location”.

The book’s blurb ends with this statement:

Bright ideas are not geographically limited, and innovation is happening every day in cities all over the country. It’s time to think outside the box when it comes to startup location. It’s time to say Screw the Valley.

It’s kind of like saying “if you can make it there, you can make it in the middle of nowhere…” (etc… to Sinatra’s music).

In “Screw the Valley: Kansas City Edition” (a brief extract of the main book) Sprinkle provides an overview of the assets and help available to Kansas City startups and #tech entrepreneurs. It appears that the “City of Fountains”, with its French-style boulevards, has many resources to offer businesses.

Sprinkle does, however, admit that Kansas City, “as a tech ecosystem, still has a branding problem”. He asks:

Why would anyone want to live in the middle of the Great Plains? Where do they work? What do they do for fun? Really, what’s the appeal? …As a State, Kansas has long been misunderstood…

Well, I can’t answer many of those questions. But, we can at least now see where some people will work in Kansas City. They are going back to school, almost literally.

The local Startland News reported that Sustainable Development Partners (KCSDP) purchased the Junior High School in January 2014. And that Kansas City Public Schools approved, in September, the sale of the High School to Sustainable Development Partners. The KCSDP website has more images and information relating to the Collaborative Innovation Hub.

The redevelopment scheme for the combined 300,000 square-feet of space will cost about $23 million. What was once Westport Junior High will become ‘home’ to non-for-profits, whilst the former Westport High School will be a space for tech and innovation.

On 18th November, Startland News ran this piece: The ‘world’s biggest coworking studio’ is coming to Kansas City. The KCSDP is partnering with coworking company Plexpod to deliver the facility.

In fact, it is not just a coworking studio:

the space will feature an array of amenities for entrepreneurs and the community as a whole, including office space, a business incubator, access to investors, an event space, a maker’s studio and more

The Startland News piece states that the Kansas City metro area already has 11 coworking spaces, but that “none will come close to rivaling the amenities and size offered at the Westport Commons project”. KCSDP reckons that “given current trends, Kansas City needs about 500,000 square-feet of coworking space to accommodate independent workers.” Wow! So coworking really has taken off in a big way.

But, can they create a place where people want to be, in those numbers, in an old school building? Most of the other coworking spaces, as the article notes, are about 5,000 square feet. Is there a reason for that, perhaps?

Do “huge” and “coworking go together? Do “huge” and “boutique hotel” go together?… I’d say, no. There is something about place which relates to scale.

I’d like to visit a year or two after it is up and running. Will the place have a ‘buzz’? Or will it feel big and corporate? It would be fascinating to read the objective views of a social network analysis study, sometime down the line. Will the operator assist that social network to develop, so the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts?

Or will people drift off to the 5,000 sq.ft. ‘buzzy’ coworking hubs? We’ll see, I guess…

@paulcarder

 

Further reading:

Bartels, L. M. (2006). What’s the Matter with What’s the Matter with Kansas?. Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 1(2), 201-226; available at: http://www.princeton.edu/~bartels/kansasqjps06.pdf

Frank, T. (2004). What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.
New York: Henry Holt & Company

Sprinkle, T. (2015). Screw the Valley: A Coast-to-Coast Tour of America’s New Tech Startup Culture: New York, Boulder, Austin, Raleigh, Detroit, Las Vegas, Kansas City. BenBella Books, Inc.

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Robots, work and place

by Paul Carder on November 7, 2015

It’s the weekend. I’m not paid by UWE Bristol (my ‘day-job’) to think at the weekend. I can stop working (attending meetings, teaching, writing emails). But I can’t stop thinking – it’s going to happen anyway. As Descartes wrote, “I think therefore I am”. This is part of the challenge of understanding what “work” actually is, for the few of us (knowledge workers¹) – most of the world is still sweating and grafting a living. They know when they have stopped work, downed tools, or whatever their terminology may be. We, knowledge workers, are probably almost as alien to some of the people doing ‘real work’ as robots are to me. All humans are sentient beings, and the robot is not. But the supposed equality of all sentient life forms would be lost, during working hours at least, on the person threading beads onto a string in India, for a rich person’s child to buy on holiday. These poor workers are robots in human form, in a sad and real sense, not like the androids of science fiction.

I have never taken much interest in robots until now, possibly as I have had little interest in what they do. But now I find myself interested in what they do not do! Robots don’t think. They are computers, with useful appendages. Robots are told (programmed) what to do, and they only do that thing when someone tells them to do so. That strikes me as being very similar to much of what we once thought of as ‘work’. Much of this work does not require a sentient life form – and the more sentient the individual is, the more likely their mind will wander, and errors will occur. Robots don’t think, so they do not get bored. So, we humans have creatively made robots which can, on the one hand take mindless soul-destroying work away from people (for a Forbes debate on this issue see this link²), and on the other hand remove their livelihood …a double-edged sword, if ever there was one….

But wait… what is this I am reading in the Guardian newspaper³ today? Robots can think! The article says:

“…the development of artificial intelligence means computers are increasingly able to “think”, performing analytical tasks once seen as requiring human judgment.”

Much of the newspaper’s article draws on a 300-page report, revealed exclusively to the Guardian, in which analysts from Bank of America Merrill Lynch “draw on the latest research to outline the impact of what they regard as a fourth industrial revolution, after steam, mass production and electronics”.

I have picked out two types of work discussed by the Guardian, which would not have been considered (by most people, I would guess) to be a possibility for robot-replacement: financial advisers and doctors.

“Financial advisers Bespoke financial advice seems like the epitome of a “personal” service; but it could soon be replaced by increasingly sophisticated algorithms that can tailor their responses to an individual’s circumstances.”

The implication here for ‘places’ is unclear, but we could imagine some scenarios. Informed users accessing the financial advice via their connected device, anywhere. Less informed users still needing to visit a financial adviser, to talk through the process (but perhaps not in the next generation?). And more work for software companies, located anywhere. In many cases, the user and the service provider (in this case, the adviser) do not need to meet, and the activity can be asynchronous. Will financial advisers offices and retail outlets be needed?

“Doctors Some 570,000 “robo-surgery” operations were performed last year. Oncologists at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York have used IBM’s Watson supercomputer, which can read 1m textbooks in three seconds, to help them with diagnosis. Other medical applications of computer technology involve everything from microscopic cameras to “robotic controlled catheters””

Again, the implication here for ‘places’ is also unclear at this time. The medical service ‘user’ would generally need to be at a specific place (a hospital, or somewhere with the appropriate facilities). But the doctor may be elsewhere. In some cases the ‘user’ would be at home, or still at the scene of an emergency. These things already happen: kidney dialysis patients can have home-treatment machines, and paramedics can treat patients at the emergency scene using head-sets connected to a doctor back at base in the hospital.

Robots change work changes places

The two scenarios above are examples of how the physical places that have become familiar may change, or the proportion of use of places may change, through the increased use of robots. Fewer financial advisers (if that is the way things go) will mean reduced demand for office space. Other new service offerings may replace the old, and office demand would normalize. Conversely, we will always need doctors, but they may not work in the same way, or in the same places at the same times as they do today.

The one area which seems reasonably clear and certain is that there will be growing work for the location-independent digital employees. For example, the software ‘coders’, technologists and data analysts, who together make the computer-driven technologies work smoothly. Where will they work, and in what kind of places? Largely in offices, labs and service-centres; more of the same. Potentially, this ever-growing group of digital employees could mostly be located anywhere. Except where the service user and service provider are working on time-critical activity, like the doctor and paramedic. Whomever is supporting them will need to feel close by, even if they are not physically close. Whereas, a non-critical online transaction, such as the financial advisory applications discussed, could be delivered from anywhere in the same way as much of back-office of financial services is already delivered.

The corporate occupier will be most affected by where the corporation finds and recruits these growing numbers of digital employees. Where are they being educated and trained? This is a concern for politicians and executives at the highest levels – will your country deliver enough people with these advanced digital skills? Will they come to where you are now? Or will you have to build new facilities for them in places where they want to be? Spaces to think? I think, therefore I am…I want…I demand…  Robots would be so much less demanding – but quite boring!

Refs:

1. The Work Foundation (2009), Knowledge workers and knowledge work: A knowledge economy programme report, London, UK.

2. Vanian, J. (2015), Robots: Will They Steal Your Job? Fortune, 4th November

3. The Guardian (2015), Robot revolution: rise of ‘thinking’ machines could exacerbate inequality, Thursday 5th November.

 

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The changing nature of jobs (ILO report)

by Paul Carder on July 24, 2015

URL: http://www.ilo.org/global/research/global-reports/weso/2015-changing-nature-of-jobs/lang–en/index.htm

Thanks to our friend Wim Pullen at TU Delft for bringing this report to our attention. It is essential reading for any professional with an interest in work, employment, and how it is changing around the world.

You, like us, probably specialize in thinking about work vis-a-vis place; or workplaces, and the many combinations or work and place. But, how much do we consider the fundamental changes happening in the world of ‘work’ itself?

In the key findings, the report says “Only one quarter of workers worldwide is estimated to have a stable employment relationship, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO)”. That is a shocking statistic. Some will argue, a lack of a “stable” employment relationship is better than no work at all. We are not here to argue the point. But, just to consider the small world in which we (and probably you) as “workplace strategists” actually live and work.

In context, my recent blog “It’s five o’clock somewhere” seems like a small, privileged world. As does most of the other musing around work-life balance, flexible working, and finding hours of work that “suit” people. It is worth remembering, that we are all in a fortunate minority.

Just saying…..

Take care, Paul @paulcarder

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(by @paulcarder co-founder @occupiers)

London’s Financial Times reported this morning, “The worst London Underground strike in more than a decade saw millions of Londoners struggle to get to work”. It is chaos, here in the UK capital – the top global city in PwC’s Cities of Opportunity ranking. It is a sorry state of affairs, as in a scene reminiscent of 1970s union-crippled Britain, the “workers” representatives couldn’t agree with “the management”.

“Workers” and “management”…we thought we had overcome that particular divide in business and society, didn’t we? But, some people have a vested interest in keeping it very much alive. In the large, industrialized, unionized industries such as transport, it lives on.

Only last year, UNITE union leader Len McCluskey addressed his supporters in Liverpool as “sisters and brothers” like some mid-20th century socialist (which, of course, he is). This, despite UNITE’s website claiming “Unite is the union for the 21st century meeting the great challenges facing working people in the 21st century”. Oh, we laughed…or would, if it was at all funny. Which, if you were in the queues forming as early as 06.30 this morning, would be far from humorous.

Of course, as we all know, one of the “great challenges facing working people in the 21st century” is their journey to and from “work” – their commute. Unless they happen to be working for an organization which has embraced agile working. Those employees, freelancers, consultants and service providers, are smiling ever-so-slightly smugly today in and around London.

I was only explaining to my eldest daughter, 16, at the weekend, how very many ways we have to communicate (and even meet ‘virtually’) today. Many at no cost, or very little cost – certainly in comparison to the rising cost (and pollution) of travel. When I was her age, we had to either travel to meet, or use the telephone. Even mobile phones were large, heavy and very expensive. Only 1980’s “yuppies” had “mobile” phones – remember these 8 technologies in the 80s 🙂

I don’t know what you use, but I have a smartphone, email, LinkedIn messaging, Twitter DM, skype (for video calls), BlueJeans and GoToMeeting for sharing presentation slides and other materials. I don’t really need to go anywhere. I do, because I like meeting people…but mostly, I don’t have to do that.

So, “sisters and brothers” (whether “worker” or “management” – all together now), lets all spread the word that agile working is the answer to this daily commuting hell. And it is sensible corporate mitigation of the risk of various (and regular) disruptions, whether transport-related, security threats, inclement weather, or whatever.

Every “worker” should, if their job allows, have the opportunity to ‘go agile’ as and when their normal daily routine is disrupted. But, organizations need to plan for this, and give their people the tools to ‘go agile’.

You can’t suddenly ‘go agile’ at 06.30 whilst standing in the queue for the Underground….

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I come from the far west of England; the rugby-loving county of Cornwall. Because I was large, I had to play, but was never much good. My second-row buddy went on to play for Scotland and the British Lions, but I took up music lessons 🙂 Anyway, we had a saying when Cornwall reached the County finals, “last one over the Tamar Bridge, turn out the lights”, as busloads of Cornish traveled to support the county side!

If you are wondering what relevance this has to anything you may usually expect to read here, it just reminded me of the current direction of travel for office occupiers. i.e., out of the office – like we sped out of the county.

There was, in fact, far more drawing us back to our beloved county of Cornwall than there is for most daily occupants of offices. Aside from the Googles and Facebooks of our occupier friends, and some of the large employers that spend serious money on great workplaces, for many others the office is a dull place. You only have to see the hoards of people walking from their soulless business park to the local supermarket to buy today’s “Meal Deal” to understand how dull life can be for those unfortunate people.

No wonder, therefore, that cool cafes and co-working hubs are busier than ever. The legions of freelancers and entrepreneurs are being joined by corporate employees who just prefer somewhere better to work. I was talking to Neardesk last week, and they are experiencing ever-rising demand from people wanting to work closer to home. Not at home: that doesn’t work for everyone (many of us just want the separation of work and home life; or have too much home life going on to concentrate). But near to home, with a short commute, good coffee, and interesting people who don’t really care if you sit on the sofa and read the newspaper for a while. Nobody is watching – they’re amongst friends (or total strangers – either way, no bosses hovering).

If you don’t have to be at the office, why would you go? It may be in a great location, and you may want to go for lunch with the girl (or guy) from accounts. But, otherwise, why not wade through your emails at a desk closer to home, and actually get home before the kids are so tired that they just want to go to sleep. Or fit in that round of golf, now that the summer evenings are here? (not for me that one – golf is a good walk spoiled – certainly for my dog!). Or take some time cooking, instead of buying a pizza at 9pm. Or…or…whatever. Take some time back.

There will always be offices. But, we just don’t need to go there every day. And agile working means desk-sharing ratios can rise, so the expanding company does not necessarily need to take on more office space. Some call it space-less growth.

So, every 4th floor you occupy could be released, if more people stayed near home one or two days a week, and let someone else use their desk on those days. Or, every 4th office building – if you occupy a portfolio within a commuting catchment area.

If you manage the 4th office, switch off the lease on your way out….

Paul

@paulcarder

@occupiers

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It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere

by Paul Carder on May 20, 2015

I hope that Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett really have lived this way! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPCjC543llU

It’s five o’clock BST here in the UK, and off they all go….

Into crowded trains, and traffic jams….

Wikipedia says “The title refers to a popular expression used to justify drinking at any time of day, given that somewhere in the world it’s 5:00 p.m. (the end of the work day for a traditional “nine-to-five” worker).”

And many people sigh, and think…. yes, that’s me! …and some of us remember when we did 9-5 too (or 8-6, or longer!).

But, let’s be inspired by the line, “”It’s only half-past twelve but I don’t care. It’s five o’clock somewhere” as ain’t that the truth! In this globalized always-switched-on world… who really cares what time it is?

Can’t we thin-slice our time?

7-8am: breakfast with whomever you love 🙂

8-9am: school run, walk? emails;

9-10am: leisurely travel to work with no commuters 🙂

1-3pm: long lunch, shared with friends – bit of business? some ideas? fun!

3-7pm: meetings, work, coffee (perhaps 🙂 with a potential customer;

7-8pm: leisurely travel from work with no commuters 🙂

8-10pm: dinner with whomever you love 🙂

10pm…. well, that’s for you to decide 🙂 You’ve done a good day’s work. You’ve avoided a lot of stress. You may just be in the mood to enjoy yourself, howsoever you choose…

It’s five o’clock somewhere….but really, who gives a…..

C-Suite do please take note – HR Directors especially – just delete “Hours of work” from your contracts of employment, and replace with “we do not expect you to waste time sitting in overcrowded trains or traffic jams….but we reserve the right to fire you if you cannot do your job in an average 37 hours a week, over the course of each year of employment”…. #EmployeeEngagement ? too right friends – that will make ’em think.

P x

@paulcarder

@occupiers

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by Paul Carder@paulcarder

How often has someone said to you, “there is a time and a place…”? In my case, it is usually because I have chosen the wrong time, or place…or both! My card was stamped early: he must read, listen, think, write, and occasionally be mixed with some smart people. And that is broadly what I have done. Never to be a diplomat, nor a senior executive. Relied on to be creative, and to do a good job perhaps; not always relied on to tow the party line (!), nor to suffer fools and time-wasters. I don’t want to spend all my time working; so, short efficient meetings, get decisions made, get stuff done – more time for life. I find it hard to deal with people who go around in circles and can’t make decisions!

The good team leaders I have worked for always know these things. They know how to get the right mix of personalities and skills; and the team members will know their place in that team. Those who have worked through an exercise on Belbin Team Roles as I have (a few times) will understand their place. I am always a Plant!

So, we are all different – OK, and good. Provided that we know! But I’m not always convinced by what I read about GenY (or even GenX – my lot), for the same reasons. I’m a Plant – and my eldest son is almost certainly a Plant! It is not about age, or generation even, but more about the individual. Assumptions can be dangerous. But how does a PLACEMAKER create and manage attractive places for all types of people?

There is a higher level of ‘time and place’. Have you ever considered the bigger picture of life, time and place? I’m convinced that workplace strategists, designers and corporate real estate professionals rarely consider this. Or what is called ‘life course’ research. Giele & Elder (1998: 22) define “life course” as “a sequence of socially defined events and roles that the individual enacts over time”.

Is the time and place of work a life course issue? It certainly changes, for most people, over time. I think it is an issue to be considered, especially as the workforce gets older. What is an attractive place to work when one is 25, is unlikely to have the same appeal at 65 – and far from being retired, many of us (and certainly our children’s generation) will be ‘at work’ in some form well past current retirement ages. Again though, it is not about age per se, and even in writing that last sentence I have made an assumption.

Barristers Chambers would be an interesting case study. A 25-year old or a 75-year old may be equally comfortable in the timeless surroundings of tradition, if they ever wanted to be there. The pleasures of rank and status may keep the ‘old’ lawyer just as content (or more, probably) than the fortunate young lawyer who recently worked hard to get there. They both know that they are part of a fortunate elite, in a club atmosphere.

But let’s face facts – most workplaces have been stripped of all their ‘status’ trappings and benefits. The accountancy and management consulting firms feel very different to the barristers’ chambers. The corner office looking over the river is now a meeting room of course – for use by anyone on a ‘needs’ basis. The long and expensive lunches are few and far between. The older accountants are mostly those whose income quadrupled when they made Partner, and who don’t wish to give that up. Those who haven’t made it, or decided it was not worth it, are opening a bottle at 8pm rather than opening emails in the office….

What will keep people in the corporate, city office, at different stages of life? What will keep them in the company, period? What’s in it for them? Money, perhaps. But many realize, some later than others, that wealth is a multi-faceted thing; not about money. Perhaps they enjoy the buzz, and imparting their knowledge to the younger generation. Maybe (as another increasing trend) they live alone, and/or are bored at home, and the corporate office is their social world. Another increasing trend is for ’empty-nesters’ to trade their cavernous 5-bed detached home in ‘the sticks’ for a bijou apartment in the city. To walk to work, to the restaurant, and the theatre; also happy with the corporate office, for its convenience and conversations.

San Francisco Bay area has certainly seen all this happening, amongst the savvy tech firms especially. The ‘kids’ want to be in downtown San Francisco – a cool place to be. Those with a family need a larger house, and trade the less ‘buzzy’ atmosphere of Palo Alto. But, some return downtown later, when they can afford the high prices attached to an apartment in one of the world’s most sought-after cities. So, there we see times and places to suit – a life course; and every one is different.

I think this may be a fruitful area of research for workplace strategists. So far, I only have anecdotal evidence from my own experience and discussions at workshops and events over the years. But, this will be part of the PLACEMAKER research as we move forwards.

Refs:

Giele, J.Z & Elder, G.H. (Eds.) (1998). Methods of Life Course Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, Sage Publications

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Imagine that a child was given school homework, to make a PowerPoint slide of Mum’s journey to and from work. It may look like this: https://app.box.com/s/w19otbry4gt53m3zfs3q – hopefully not too much better, as I’ve just done that with basic clipart!

Now, imagine how much of that picture might make little sense to a school-child in 2040 (or, thereabouts). Or at least, I truly hope that it would not be a ‘normal’ daily journey. It might make a fairly interesting educational boardgame actually? Roll a pair of sixes, to work from home. Dash it, I rolled two ones – have to catch that crowded commuter train again….any entrepreneurs out there, call me!

Transport infrastructure is a political hot-potato, probably in any city or densely populated region. But, one has to ask the question, is infrastructure the right way to spend our way to a better future? Politicians seem to think so. Look at our ‘boardgame’ though, and it would be immediately obvious to a child that there are many options other than travelling the winding route all the way to the corporate office.

My regional partner in Australia, Martin Leitch, was telling me about his home city of Melbourne on our regular call last week. Aparently it is currently expanding faster than Sydney. This is creating a serious issue with travel into the CBD, and the politicians (like everywhere) seem to believe that throwing money at transport infrastructure is the solution. So, we got discussing whether they should redefine infrastructure as a wider support for working in a different way. That infrastructure should include places, spaces and technology which allows people to do their work without travelling too far from where they live. Just like our boardgame picture – walking to a ‘desk’ in a coffee shop, or using the beleaguered Main Street which has been starved of customers since the advent of out-of-town shopping centres. Or perhaps even travelling to the railway hub, but not boarding any train! Why not – lots of parking and buses, so why not have a ‘work-hub’ at every rail hub?

It is all about city, urban, suburban, and rural planning. Land economics – what is the best economic use of land. The cost to live in the centre of cities, even if one wanted to, is always going to be too high for most families. The cool CBD is for the young professionals, singles, affluent couples without children, and a few ’empty-nesters’. Unless you are very wealthy, the rest of us need to commute to an office from various distances away from the centre. That daily grind seems to get more expensive, and stressful (due to many factors – overcrowding, delays, etc.).

It is also not sustainable, in the human or environmental sense. Carbon has had a price now for many years, due to schemes such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. And that carbon ‘price’ will only rise over time. Add that to the actual ‘real’ fuel cost of travel, commuting will become a balance between necessity and affordability. It will be reduced, and ‘rationed’ in effect, to the one or two days a week that a person actually needs to be ‘co-located’ with the rest of their team in order to stay sufficiently ‘in touch’. But, commuting five days a week over long distances will surely be deemed wasteful, and environmentally damaging – not to mention costly and inefficient.

Then, there are the social pressures on families, especially – childcare, and elderly or carer responsibilities. It would be far easier, for many working people who also have carer responsibilities, to be able to get home in a shorter amount of time. There is no time to expand on that here, but there is extensive literature available on flexible working, and many governments are supporting with legislation.

In our little real estate world, who should be interested in all this? Real estate economists and developers, for sure – what they develop, and specifically where, needs to change. There will not be the demand for tertiary office space, especially older and inflexible property stock. Occupiers will need less space in the corporate ‘head office’, but what they do need will be good quality, highly flexible, in attractive locations where people can easily access transport links.

They will invest in fewer, smaller, high-spec ‘hubs’ in key cities – and they can spend a little of what they have saved on attracting and retaining staff, by giving them some form of flexible workspace ‘clubcard’ to access a facility closer to home.

Aha, the lamp lights – what will these ‘local centres’ look like? Well they may look like the existing small town Main Streets, retail centres, and rail hubs as mentioned above. Most of the buildings that we will be using in 2040, of course, already exist – we only add a little to the ‘stock’ every year. But those existing buildings can be redesigned, and refurbished of course (developers eyes light up too, now). Property development opportunities. Also the creation of a new service economy, aimed at making peoples’ working day more effective – and attracting them to their ‘local centre’. It will have to be high quality though – if you have worked in central city locations for years, and now you are contemplating working 2-3 days a week in your local hub, it can’t feel like second-class experience. But, if we get the quality of facility and experience right, people will come – they will not mourn the loss of their daily commute into the corporate office. After all, they will still commute once or twice a week, to stay in touch, socialize, meet clients, or for many other reasons. And if commuting is not a daily grind, it may become a welcome trip to see friends. Absence makes the heart grow fonder!

So, perhaps the question should have been, not ‘what’ was, but ‘why’ did we commute Grandma? That one, I’ll leave to you to ponder!

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