Understanding the Shift From Workplace to Work & Place
Technology has allowed knowledge workers even more freedom in how and when they work. It’s allowed people to work from home or work from a more agile work environment such as a coworking space, which has been diminishing the need to commute to an office.
To better understand the relationship between work and place and how this is evolving rapidly, we caught up with Paul Carder. Paul is the co-founder of The Occupiers Journal, and the publisher of Work&Place.
He is also a teacher at the University of the West England in Bristol, is working on his Ph.D, and he has an extensive background in facilities management and corporate real estate.
As we began our discussion, Paul jumped right into the balance of work and place, and why it’s so imperative to understanding the transition to more fluid work, place and working time arrangements.
PC: This isn’t about offices, it’s not about fixed workplaces, it’s not about how to make your office more efficient or any other type of building more efficient, it’s about understanding how people work. […] People start from home in the morning and then end up at home at the end of the day, so the first question is, ‘why go anywhere at all?’
PC: I find it interesting and a bit sad at the same time that we’re still commuting on a mass scale around the world in the same way as our parents did and probably as their parents did.
It may not be the main option yet, but the switch from commuting to utilizing a coworking space has crept its way in and is growing as a viable option for companies, not just individuals. Paul tells us more about his research findings.
PC: One of the things that I’m particularly interested in is coworking hubs, which started off with people working in cafés, and it’s progressed into more sophisticated options. Now, of course, we’ve got coworking hubs and companies like ‘wework’ and various others who are focused on providing that third space or third place option. And what I’m particularly interested in personally in my research is understanding how large corporates are starting to take that into their planning because most of these third places have been growing hugely but mainly being taken up by individuals, you know, sole practitioners, or tech entrepreneurs, and now large corporations are starting to look at it and say ‘hang on a minute’, why don’t we do a bit of this as well, maybe we can have 60 to 70 percent of our work space in an office, but give options for staff to work in other places.
Paul says once he’s in the next stage of his Ph.D, he intends to go out and interview people who are using these large coworking hubs and learn whether the corporate users are finding success.
PC: We’ve got to get away from this dominance on cars. What has that got to do with real estate? Well if we can start to build in a strategy where knowledge workers start to work closer to home, which is my key interest, even if it’s only two days a week, they can walk or cycle to some sort of office near where they live and probably with people in their own community that they know who all work for different companies, that’s where coworking can really start to hugely change society. It would benefit the environment, and as long as it doesn’t cause negative effects on the way business runs, I can’t see why it wouldn’t happen.
What’s going to be the tipping point for companies to make this shift? Why isn’t everyone on board?
PC: This goes right back to the old days of telework back in the 1980s when we first started getting into the ability to work remotely using really basic technology. But back in the beginning, it was always about management attitudes. Managers like to see people in the office so they can see what they’re doing. That is changing and that has to change otherwise we’re just going to continuously commute forever.
Paul says that with the technology we now have it’s so fast and almost as easy to create remote working spaces. There are so many online tools available to us; you can now collaborate away from the office just as easy as being together in the office. He tell us how this new way of work requires experts from a number of backgrounds to come together and continue to drive the movement forward.
PC: It’s very multi-disciplinary from a research point of view because if you think about it, there’s a bit of sustainability in there, there’s a bit of human resource management, there’s a bit of real estate, there’s a bit of psychology – there are lots of different aspects to it and they’re all coming together to look at how we can best support the growth and development of business and organizations without them necessarily living in an unsustainable way.
Now, it’s not just a managerial decision. Perception and the economy are playing huge roles in the reasons employees are choosing to still commute to an office.
PC: Commuting daily returned in the recession because people were worried about their jobs. […] They wanted to be seen in the office to make sure they didn’t lose their jobs. As the economy seems to be picking up quite well now, I don’t know whether that will start to change again.
The fundamental fear perhaps that managers have that people aren’t working if they can’t see them in front of them – I think that’s just a human thing, where managers that need training specifically just to understand that your teams are going to get on with their work if they’ve got tasks in front of them.
And then it comes down to individual personalities. There are some people you know really well that wherever they are, they’re going to be working flat out anyway, and there are other people that you have to keep giving them tasks and once they’ve finished it, they won’t necessarily come to you asking for any more work. So there are two ends of the spectrum and in between there’res most other people. It comes down to understanding your team as well.
So what does Paul suggest to effectively balance work and place?
Having talked about it for years, managers should now be managing outputs, not dictating the times and places of work. And an effective method would be for managers to allocate work in packages, and monitor progress with meetings every week or so. He suggests for the remainder of the time to give staff the freedom to work wherever and whenever they feel fits their clients and their own lives. He also says the demand for more sustainable work practices and the demand for the reduction of carbon emissions from commuting may give this the push it needs to change the places in which we work.