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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Third Places: The Café Work Culture

Submitted by on September 16, 2010 – 2:47 pmNo Comment

Third places have emerged as a viable alternative to working at home. Mobile workers are attracted to the social interaction as an antidote to the relative isolation of home. The appropriation of, social or ‘third places’ as an alternative to the traditional ‘second place’ office as a work setting is a rapidly growing phenomenon. Ongoing developments in technology and culture have enabled mobility and expanded the available choice of ‘third places’ as workplaces. Work can be performed nearly whenever, wherever and with whomever one chooses. The ability of the workforce to exert choice and individual preference in selecting work settings creates a new social dynamic with opportunities and challenges to second and third place environments.

For the most part ‘third places’ like cafés have been selected by choice and adopted by mobile workers for their proximity to one’s residence or shortened commute, the amenities and social interactions they afford, their ability to temporarily support work (comfortable places to sit, access to wifi) or the quality of light and space appealing to individual preferences.  Other places may have only the most minimal affordances needed. These places include office waiting rooms, airport clubs for frequent travelers, hotel lobbies, or other transitional spaces that have a place to sit and access email or other documents via the network via wifi or telephone data connection. These places are loosely congruent with ‘third places’ and expand the category to accept broader interpretations. However choices can often limited and offset by certain deficiencies, for example working in a cafe all day long, or for several hours, may be difficult.   The owner clearly benefits more from high turnover of customers and this attitude may be transmitted formally or informally to the clientele. Cafés also do not have supports such as copy, fax, or printing. Furniture may not be designed for long periods of working and may be ergonomically deficient. Other deficiencies include lack of plugs, parking or location near amenities or major transit stops.

In the public realm, most places that are able to support work often do so as a secondary benefit. Not intended specifically for work, these places have been appropriated mobile workers.  Intentionally or accidentally, third places provide an opportunity to be embedded in a social environment, but without the obligation to interact with others as would be expected in an office. A specific subset of third places with settings amenable to working can be defined that share a number of physical and social characteristics. These characteristics initially include:

Flexibility

Seating is informally arranged and occupied. A variety of seating options are available from tables to softer chairs or sofas. Access to the internet by wifi allows an easy change of seating choice. Individuals can work according to their own schedule and come and go as needed.

Entrepreneurial Individuals

Users of third places are predominantly individuals working independently. The majority appear to be entrepreneurs or independent contractors rather than mobile employees.

Sociability

Working in these environments provides an opportunity to be near others and is seen as preferable to the relative isolation of a home office.

Connectivity

Users of third places are technologically connected relying on virtual technologies and social media to maintain a large informal network of connections.

In addition to the ‘third place’ attributes of flexibility, sociability, having entrepreneurial individuals, and connectivity; emerging work focused ‘hybrid spaces’ typically have a common feature of:

Simplicity

These spaces are minimalist in décor with an emphasis on simple clean uncluttered space. Pragmatic and focused on a straightforward approach to getting work done. Although these spaces reduce distractions they are not stark but are attractive, well lit and furnished.

Third places play a relatively unique role in the spectrum of work settings. These spaces create behavioral settings that are populated in proximity to others who are engaged in activities unrelated to one’s one. This setting type emphasizes being ‘alone together’ with either similar or dissimilar persons usually by choice but sometimes of necessity. More specifically work focused or supportive spaces may provide teleconferencing technologies that add a component of being ‘virtual together’ bridging the geographic separation of distributed work teams or connecting with the office ‘hub’ for learning sessions or specialized knowledge support. New business types and hybrid models will emerge including; innovation centers/incubators, virtual offices, temporary employment agencies, social networking/job search, workforce training centers, etc. and will continue to grow and evolve. These changes will likely result in; expanded support for different types of work, improved communication and collaboration networks, and increased social and professional networking opportunities.

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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