The Future of Work

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At first, there seems a discrepancy: we hear incessant talk of low job
growth and economic distress, but see people tapping expensive smartphones and
buying the latest social-mobile app. Indeed, the technology and design
industries seem unaffected by the recession, set to continue on the same course
of planned obsolescence they’ve been on for decades. But a second look reveals
that advances in these sectors are helping people adjust to life in a
pared-down economy, in a world where the environment has become a main concern.
Our recession isn’t happening in a vacuum, and advances in design and
technology, paired with an economy in flux, are changing the definition of both
work and the workplace.

From an architectural perspective, office layout has been changing since
before the recession, away from cubicles and toward flexible, open-plan
designs. Companies that depend on innovation have designed headquarters that
encourage play and serendipitous meetings. Pixar’s office drives foot traffic toward
a central area
, encouraging impromptu idea sharing. Cisco, inspired by the
use of common space in universities, freed
its employees from traditional desks
with wireless technology and
unassigned work stations. The shift encouraged collaboration, increased
employee satisfaction, and reduced infrastructure costs.

More recently, office designs have prioritized environmental efficiency. At Skype’s
headquarters, independent work spaces line the perimeter
of the LEED-certified
building, near natural light and away from noise. Like Pixar, meeting spaces
and break rooms are centralized, encouraging spontaneous collaboration. At
Google’s LEED-certified offices around the world, traditional cubicles and
meeting rooms have been replaced with playful spaces, from egg-shaped
pods
to unassigned space-age
seating
. Additionally, environmental, community, and employee
wellness
are supported with bike-to-work incentives and
local, sustainably produced food in the cafeterias.

From open-plan and environment-centered office design it’s a
short leap to another innovation: coworking. A dearth of steady jobs has
created a new league of freelancers, and the desire to reduce carbon footprints
has made telecommuting more appealing than ever. Sure, there’s the local coffee
shop, but coworking offers a way for freelancers and telecommuters to stay
local and tap in to the perks of an
office
by sharing costs, space, and resources. Aside from the benefits of
sharing an eco-friendly printer, coworking offers potential for collaboration
and networking
, and can lead to serendipitous partnerships. Shareable has compiled a list
of resources for tapping in
to the movement.

Paul McFedries of IEEE
Spectrum
reports that sharing is “the driving force behind a new economic
model called collaborative
consumption
, where consumers use online or off-line tools to rent, share,
and trade goods and services.” Coworking can also be a manifestation of
collaborative production, found in projects like Longshot!, a magazine that
encourages contributors to work together in satellite offices. From this angle,
it looks like social, mobile, and local have gone way beyond smartphone
applications–they could be the way we work in the future.

Image: Zonaspace coworking in Saint Petersburg, Russia, by ?????????-???????????? ???? ????????. Licensed under Creative Commons.

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