My week of working in alternative spaces and places

It’s the second last day of the academic year, and I’ve only been at my desk once this week. A couple of years ago, that would have been a disastrous week. I would have been stressing out about the pile of work and messages awaiting me at the office; feeling out of the loop; and perhaps even being a little unproductive from not having ready access to my files. This week, I feel that I have completed more work than I normally would, and I’m not stressed out about the pile of messages as there won’t be any.

Monday

I started off my week in the office with a typical day of meetings, email, catching up with colleagues, and spent a large part of the day preparing a briefing for a senior manager.

Tuesday

Working from home, my main focus was on marking assignments and responding to queries from students and updating my contribution to a marketing document. I have been working from home one day each week for the past year. This has been working well for me – I avoid sitting in traffic for an hour at each end of the day; I get to pick my kids up from school and cook and eat dinner with the whole family. I get fewer disruptions on these days, so I can do work requiring concentration or in depth reading. Work is also not concentrated into a block of 8 hours. I do a little bit of work before taking the kids to school, I go for a run at lunchtime, and after the kids go to bed I finish off some work or respond to emails.

Wednesday

I met four of my team in our city campus to spend the day planning a new subject we will be teaching in 2014. Two members of the team work at a regional campus, so they had travelled to Melbourne for the day. It was great being able to meet with the team face-to-face and spend some concentrated time discussing our ideas and brainstorming learning activities and assessment tasks. We were able to add in some team bonding time by going to a café for lunch and then a quick drink after work.

Thursday

I teach a career development subject to undergraduate students at La Trobe University. One of the topics we cover is about the future of work, and in particular concepts around coworking and other forms of flexible work arrangements. Today, the City of Melbourne and a shared workspace organisation ‘The Hub Melbourne’ were hosting a cowork day. A laneway in central Melbourne was blocked to vehicles and set up as an outdoor workspace. So, I decided to join in and experience coworking myself.

coworking-laneway-2013

The laneway was set up with tables, chairs, free wi-fi, bean bags, cushions, and fake grass. There was a great vibe, partly created through some music being played unobtrusively in the background, people chatting, collaborating, or just hanging out. Pedestrians passed through the lane with quizzical looks on their faces, but we all just smiled and continued typing on our laptops, tweeting, talking, or soaking up the atmosphere. It felt like a great way to work and I can see how it would be attractive to freelancers, small start-up companies, who would have all experienced the isolation that can happen for people not working in a large team. From happenstance and Chaos Theory of Careers perspectives, working in a shared workspace with a diversity of people will surely make luck happen.

I’d love to set up a “pop up” coworkspace on campus. I think it could be a fantastic way to get staff and students across the campus to work together, especially in areas where we might want to collaborate or learn from each other.

Friday

For the last day of my working week, I am planning on being in the office where I’ll get the chance to check in with my team and colleagues.

Lessons learned

My experience this week has been far from unproductive. Access to technology has made working away from my desk possible and in many ways, as, or more productive than being there. My laptop is set up to enable working away from the office. I have VPN software installed so I can join my company network from any internet connection, thus giving me immediate access to my files and intranet resources. I also have Jabber, which means that I can answer my desk phone using my laptop.

A surprising outcome of this week has been that I have operated paperless. Even working from a small screen (when I’m in the office I plug into a 20” monitor) I was able to cope well without needing to print out documents.

The other aspect of this week has been thinking about work in a very different way. I haven’t had constant contact with my colleagues, even though I’ve been in touch via phone calls and emails. You can waste lots of time as a manager “supervising”. Being away from direct contact for part of the week means that the focus is actually on doing your own work and periodically checking the progress your team is making. Overall a win-win I think!

It has been an unusual week but an interesting one. It seems to me that technology is now at a point where we can think about and experiment with different ways of working. It won’t suit or be possible for all people in all industries to work this way. It won’t even suit people wanting to work flexibly to do so all the time. However if you are a knowledge worker and want to work in different spaces and time, you can do this and remain somewhat connected with your colleagues and the information and technological resources you need to do your work.

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