Future University – Edge Zones
February 5, 2013 – 6:47 pm | Comments Off on Future University – Edge Zones

I’ve been thinking a bit about the future of the university, and it seems to me that a new model may be emerging, one that has something of the traditional sanctuary of a place of learning, but that innovatively engages communities, both local and international. There will, of course, have to be those preserves where students and teachers can contemplate their experience and learn together, but there must also be what, for the moment, one might think of as an edge zone where interactions of many kinds might take place.

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Emerging Workplaces: The Cowork phenomenon

Submitted by on September 16, 2010 – 3:02 pmNo Comment

New workplaces are emerging that create alternative spaces for work with the express purpose of supporting mobile practices. These hybrid spaces provide work support and the buzz or social activity without distractions and interruptions.

Starting in 2006 informal work gatherings called ‘Jelly’ have convened in first and third places to create more socially networked settings for work. These nascent ‘coworking’ events began informally, hosted in apartments or local cafes.  ‘Jelly’ work events are free socially-oriented professional networking forums that gather a wide spectrum of entrepreneurs in a single location. Increasingly social and work related networking are assisting with a range of activities: maintaining and expanding existing relationships; connecting with and disseminating knowledge, information and opinion; and finding resources, things, services, people and places. The users find the proximity of a side-by-side working atmosphere engaging and creatively stimulating.  Finding and participating in a ‘Jelly’ is facilitated by the internet through sites like workatjelly.com and twitter feeds. The growth of these has been quick, as of spring 2010 our research identified over 80 ‘Jelly’ event postings in the US with more than 60 locations globally. ‘Jelly’ and ‘coworking’ events have provided a socially stimulating alternative to spaces for independent and mobile workers.

The ‘Jelly’ has helped to instigate new dedicated spaces for working. Dedicated ‘cowork’ spaces have several advantages over informal ‘Jelly’ and intermittent uses of other ‘third places’ by providing a dependable and readily accessible location with secure access. These ‘Cowork’ spaces are a small but rapidly emerging subset of new business types distinguished from other ‘third places’ in that these are specifically created with the purpose of providing shared flexible workspaces for individuals with diverse and mobile work styles. This allows mobile workers flexible work times with some ‘coworking’ locations open 24/7. Many ‘Cowork’ spaces continue to host ‘Jelly’ along with other networking and community building events to foster communication, collaboration and the exchange of ideas.

‘Cowork’ spaces specifically provide shared supports for work which typically include; high speed wireless internet, printers, copiers and scanners. These spaces provide a productive work environment for individuals where they can comfortably work side-by-side with similar others engaged in like tasks. These spaces may also provide a sense of “legitimacy” that are found to be missing in cafe or other settings.  ‘Cowork’ spaces offer a variety of seating options that effectively support a greater variety of work styles and preferences. In some instances private lockers or storage bins are supplied with person identification. These are often branded with the individual’s logo or insignia. ‘Cowork’ spaces are distinctly different from corporate shared office models such as Regus. Corporate office suites provide a more limited range of workspaces with primarily private offices or suites. The differences can be seen not only in business model, physical layout, etc. but also in terms of look, feel, community, and interaction.   Corporate shared offices have a commercial feel with receptionist and traditional office furnishings and come with a higher fee structure than the informal ‘cowork’ spaces with membership rates closer to a gym or fitness club.

In general ‘coworking’ clients appear to prefer a relaxed and dedicated open space work environment without the distractions of a café environment or the enforced hush of a library setting. White noise and acoustic dampening lowers ambient noise and encourages quiet conversations and social interactions. Secluded areas are present for private conversations and some small shared conference, meeting, or ‘huddle rooms’ are often provided.  When larger assembly activities are required for group or networking events, furniture is easily rearranged transforming work spaces into presentation spaces.

Interestingly another apparent common feature of successful ‘Cowork’ and other ‘third places’ appropriated for mobile work are their geographic location in or near ‘clusters’ or ‘hubs’ with multiple options for eating, entertainment, and other social amenities. These locations are not surprisingly urban or densely populated areas readily accessible to large numbers of people with a broad range of transportation alternatives. Third places thereby provide an opportunity for engaging work in a larger urban context potentially transforming central business districts to diversify and support new and emerging businesses and work practices. Businesses will increasingly need to compete with these places and business partnerships will likely become a more integral part of cities and towns economic development strategies. In this arena both will compete to attract and retain creative professionals who increasingly choose to live in interesting and vibrant places.

This post is excerpted from an Allsteel sponsored research report ‘NetWork: The Future Workplace’ by Daniel P. Anderson, William L. Porter, and Judith H. Heerwagen – July 2010.

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