We are a mobile lot, never mind from using the latest technology but also from the pressures and joys of living life today. After a busy few weeks going to seminars on work-life and workplace design (office is too restricting a term these days), Sydney Indesign workshops and open showrooms (as, of course, also happens in different years in Melbourne, Brisbane and Singapore), and hearing architects talk, about reducing capital expenditure because everyone leaves their current job if at all dissatisfied and simply moves onto the next job or finite project, it is easy to think we are all in free-flow, flexible, energetic and ready-for-action at any time or place.
Yet, we are also looking for the opposite mode, where we Communicate (with a capital C), Engage and Collaborate in Conversations that foster Community and Intimacy between each other and within companies and businesses. Many speakers urged the need to change 'corporate culture' to allow flexible, activity based work, with spaces for quiet study, others for boisterous team discussions, client meetings and the vital nodes of cafe and kitchen.
How to mix the potentially impersonal transient form of work with personal interactions is generating different workplaces with their own personalities. Visits to co-working hubs in Sydney's CBD, inner-city, inner-west and further afield, in the Southern Highlands, show that while they were all centrally located in their areas, room layout, size, heating and lighting, number of people they cater for, fee structure, heritage, fit out, access to showers (and bicycles), hours open, plants and furniture, for example, varied tremedously.
Melbourne Design Hub founder and CEO, Brad Krauskopf, a self-described social innovator and entrepreneur (that hub has over 700 members), is proud that the Sydney Hub involved hubbites in designing the space, from early meetings onwards, emphasising the need to connect people in a phrase I heard somewhere along the line, 'to leverage social capital not financial capital'.
Even our vegetation is flexible, UTS and the Powerhouse Museum's Edible Walls propped up the cafe, encouraging us to grow our own herbs and veggies vertically in planter boxes attached to pallets. For some reason, for me, this linked well with the surge in pop-up food trucks, there for an event only, temporary, convenient, authentic.
I was editor of BVN Donovan Hill's 'Transformative: the Architecture of Work Culture', which meant I went to informal meetings on their enticing verandah, with its great views, roomy armchairs, comfy cushions, and interplay of people and food, gathering as teams or concentrating on their own over a laptop. It is conducive to free-flowing ideas, whether you agree with them or not.
Anyone who is, or aspires to become, an entrepreneur has to take risks; failure is something to learn from and not fear is a start-up company maxim. UTS Executive Eduction at UTS Business School asked, can large companies behave like start-ups? To do so, they need passion, energy and confidence, prioritising the human dimension, challenging conventions and hierarchies and striving to innovate and survive rather than protect what they have. This needs a major, but not insurmountable, cultural and behavioural change and fits the mobility zeitgeist.
Photographer and artist Louise Hawson's 52 Suburbs in Sydney exhibition a couple of years ago was very popular. She has gone further afield, searching out 52 'unsung' suburbs around the world (Museum of Sydney until November 24). There are 10 countries and 14 cities, and she again uses the traditional diptych form, juxtaposing colour and geometry, thriving on temples, parks, sport, music, clothes, streets, apartment block facades, and young and old faces, staring at the camera, ordinary people, not celebrities, willing her to photograph them.
I know the picture of two old women crossing a narrow, crowded road in Kowloon's Sham Shui Po, it took me right back to my first ever Sunday in Hong Kong in 1978 when I had my first yum cha, first ball soup and first fried intestine. These particularities of a place layer history and memory and personality, and perhaps point to what we are looking for in the less restrictive workplaces that are reshaping our working lives.
- Article: Deborah Singerman
- Image: Collage by Vanessa Couzens