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Monday, June 27, 2022

The anywhere working city

Technology will help turn modern cities into flexible working environments, influencing design and planning, and transforming urban spaces into ??Anywhere Working Cities??, according to a new whitepaper published by Microsoft.

The paper has been co-authored by Linda Chandler, enterprise services architect at Microsoft, and Philip Ross, CEO at UnWork.com It draws on interviews and work from a wide variety of experts and thought leaders, including Sir Terry Farrell, master architect famous for his regeneration projects across the UK; Steven Norris, ex-transport minister and board member at TfL; Norman Baker MP, parliamentary under-secretary of state for transport; and Fiona Fletcher Smith, executive director of development and environment at the GLA.

According to the paper, the time has come for technology to make its mark on the evolution of our cities. Historically we have seen geography, politics, transport, architecture and economics playing their part in the moulding of the cityscape but in the 21st Century it is the turn of technology to positively influence the design and planning of our great cities.

The concept of the Anywhere Working City is a highly livable, polycentric megapolis driven by societal expectation of a different way of working, shopping and living, and enabled by new architectures of building, technology and transport. Nomadic workers looking for workspace between head office and home will use innovative third space hubs at networked foci around the city and beyond. Pioneering developments in historic cities such as London and Manchester are learning from the boom in emerging cities like Qatar and Shenzhen; that technology, power and transport must be at the foundation of the planning and development process.

The evolution to an Anywhere Working City is driven by over-crowding, environmental concerns, economic factors and society??s desire to work and live in a more balanced way. It??s motivated by the need to save money, comply with stricter environmental legislation and compete for the next generation of employees with demands of a better way of working. But it is technology that underpins all of these factors. Although technology is the biggest achievement of our generation, it is the expectation of the next generation. Technology is the facilitator of the Anywhere Working City. The city will emerge as a people-focused metropolis embracing the potential of technology and enhancing the lives of its citizens.

Technology is often viewed as a short-term solution to business challenges rather than the longer-term driver of societal change that could determine our perceptions of future work. We have been shown a vision of a Smart City with obtrusive technology set in a revolutionary urban utopia, but the concept of the Anywhere Working City is a softer, evolved, more human-focused scenario where the adoption and leverage of technology stimulates a change in societal expectation of the way we work and live.

As the Mayor??s design adviser, Sir Terry Farrell insists that we need to look more broadly at development and city planning. ?Technology will be the key contributor to how city developments are designed; underpinning, enabling and informing the higher architectural concepts of how we work. But we must also ensure that technology architects, IT and enterprise architects working at a higher level, look at the bigger picture and develop strategies rather than their own ??ribbon cutting?? projects.??

Sir Terry suggests that we can learn from the academic world and the growth of new universities. The Oxbridge model is ??space positive??; interdisciplinary colleges with communal areas creating an atmosphere where people from different academic subjects live, work and discuss ideas. The ??new?? universities are usually ??object positive?? with each department in its own building, with a tendency to become territorial and isolated.

Richard Watson, writer and strategist, also champions the theory that ideas need space to ??bump into each other??, arguing that kitchens and staircases are the most important design concepts for creativity and serendipity. The ??Bump?? concept has already been discussed at the level of the Anywhere Organisation, with companies enabling their workspace so that employees can work more collaboratively and share ideas organically. But as a society, both creatively and logistically, we must have both the building and technology architecture that will allow this to happen on a macro-scale within the city.

While new developments have technology at the root of their design, a major inhibitor of adapting more established cities is having to ??retrofit?? technology to historic areas. Concentrated work hubs like Soho and the West End of London ,are already suffering power failures and are inhibited by this under-capacity of electrical distribution and the limitations of existing broadband cabling.

New cities in China, the Middle East and Asia recognise the importance of enabling work through technology and have it as the basis of their infrastructure, determining the design and architecture of the city. Sir Terry is familiar with new developments in Shenzhen having built the tallest Chinese skyscraper by a British architect there and believes we can learn from the mistakes and successes of these new cities. Developments such as the Life Science hub at Royal Docks in London and Media City in Manchester are at the cutting edge of technology, as they need to attract digital businesses. The parallels between these developments and new cities such as Qatar are evident in their need to consider technology and transport infrastructure together.

Executive director of development and environment at the GLA, Fiona Fletcher Smith, discusses the Mayor of London??s commitment to ??barrier- busting activities??: ?New developments like the Royal Docks need to fit tech from the beginning. It will be like Taiwan in terms of broadband speed with cabling upgrades already in place.?? There has also been a commitment from Crossrail to minimise travel times to Heathrow4, Canary Wharf and central London and a ??barrier-busting?? cable car project linking the docks to the Greenwich peninsula.

In loose terms we talk almost interchangeably about building or technology architecture and infrastructure, but we tend not talk of ??transport architecture??. Smart mobility has come to mean transport plus IT, but perhaps we need to move to the ??higher?? level of transport architecture to allow us to think more holistically about connecting people, physically and virtually, across a city region. Transport architecture can take into account the bigger themes; flexible ways of working, new technologies and smarter travel and rather than reacting to unsustainable short-term demands on its capacity, transport will need to broaden its gaze in order to fulfill its remit to reduce emissions and to get cities moving again.

?The existing system cannot cope with infinite expansion,?? agrees Steven Norris, ex-transport minister and board member at Transport for London. Whilst traditional transport policy stuck to increasing capacity and improving services, the ever-growing demand is untenable and transport must now look beyond its traditional boundaries for an answer. Cities must have a strong, strategic transport architecture policy but will also have to be more inventive within their current transport framework to encourage a shift in attitude and behaviour. These parallels between building architecture, technology architecture and now transport architecture demonstrate that all city design should be looking more strategically about how, where and why we work and live like we do.

Technology will be a catalyst for the societal change needed to enable the Anywhere Working City. With ??the cloud?? replacing companies own internal IT infrastructure housed in city buildings and mobile devices becoming increasingly sophisticated, we are becoming free to work anywhere and anytime. While the polar model of office or home has been the staple of flexible working so far, there is a growing need for alternative workspace between these two extremes, where people can work for an hour or so between meetings or just co-locate for interaction and contact. But a third space can offer so much more than just a place to work ??on the pause??. According to Cornelius Medvei at the law firm Eversheds: ?When we decided to change the way we worked we found that the use of ??third space?? allowed greater collaboration and thinking space.??

This ??third?? space concept already exists to some extent with WiFi availability in cafes, bars and libraries but it is a growing sector. In London, The Institute of Directors and The British Library have already embraced this concept, with The British Library providing free WiFi and power points for laptops in its public spaces6. As Farrell points out: ?You have as many people in the corridors and staircases as in the Reading Rooms because they can talk on their phones and interact??.

Transport hubs like stations and airports will also play a major part in the provision of workspace. Farrell points out that: ?30 percent of people in St. Pancras station are not there to catch a train.?? Companies such as Regus, who provide flexible workspaces, are reacting to the need to work in ad hoc ways and are opening hotel-style offices where you can rent space for short periods or use drop in business lounges. In a recent study, 63.5 percent of people preferred to have a commute of less than 20 minutes a day with only 12.3 percent of people preferring to work form home. The suburbs, which now empty out during the day, could be given a fresh lease of life with people looking for interesting and inspiring places to work, closer to home and in their communities.

Models for innovative third space include ??The Guild??, where people of a similar profession can work side-by-side or ??The Clubhouse??, where a mix of professionals of a similar standing can network as well as work8. As office buildings are refurbished, space is often reassigned with more collaborative areas and less personal desk space. Workers are asked to give up their desks for a certain number of days a week and encouraged to find alternative workspaces. The idea of a ??touch down office?? or even extending the popular ByO device concept more broadly to a ByO office, where employees are given a budget to fund their own working space, are ideas that will grow, empowering people to choose their place of work and saving companies money.

Fiona Fletcher-Smith at the GLA has already given up her desk for two days a week and is in search of the perfect third space. She imagines a time when you can ?touch in and out of office space with something equivalent to an Oyster Card.??

The natural by-product to this concept, where employees are empowered to create their own working conditions, is for corporate headquarters to be reduced in size or even to become virtual. Some smaller companies are already questioning the presence of a permanent head office and this freeing up of office space in expensive city centres not only has the potential to save companies money, with huge savings on furniture, heating and lighting, for example, but it will enable a ??virtuous circle?? where office blocks are redesigned to allow mixed functionality with increased residential use. ?We can learn from places like New york,?? says Fiona Fletcher Smith, ?mixed use developments, where it??s not just office blocks but there is residential use as well, means that people can live closer to work, reducing the consumerisation of technology and ByOD (bring your own device) extends the ??place?? where you can work to numerous ??out of office?? settings.

However, the perceived freedom that this allows is only part of the equation. underlying all of these concepts is the need for competent technology that will enable ??Anywhere Working?? and the empowerment of the worker. The urban infrastructure (broadband, 4G, WiFi) plus touch down space and Smarter Travel must be in order so that we can truly decide, in the broadest sense, what the ??Place?? will be.
This ties in with the view of Farrell, who believes in creating residential properties where people want to live rather than in out-of-town developments. He is planning to create large numbers of homes in Old Oak Common, a neglected area of London near Paddington.

However we must remember not to try and force everyone into the same model. The concept of home-working can be horrifying for some and Richard Watson warns us that future working could be isolating. Iain Macbeth, business engagement programme manager at TfL, where there are 1.7 people to a desk, says that there still needs to be more research into the impact of hot-desking on team dynamics. He says: ?It??s often the younger staff members who like to come into work for their social life and who make social arrangements that improve team spirit??.

Ultimately though, these different ways of working, the ??Third Space??, the ByO Office, home and traditional or alternative office settings, represent an individual??s emerging ability to choose how, where and when they
work.

 

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