I just stumbled upon another interesting article in the NYTimes by Allison Arieff. Writing over a month ago, she looks at the persistent yet optimistic theory that design can solve the “problems” in the workplace. One of my “problems” is I’m just reading this now. My busy work life, my much needed personal life, and my odd day-offs over the summer, have not left much room for catching up with current events and the popular press. I can decry the fact that I spend time staring at my iPhone on my days off, but the fact of the matter is that my iPhone allows me to take days off, because I can use it to answer emails remotely. This multi-tasking-life-work-integration-collaboration is sweeping the professional world, and I guess I’m part of it.
But is this a “problem”? As Arieff points out, and we all intuitively know, more and more of us are working in more and more unconventional fashion. Throw in the unstable economy, and you’ve got a generation of workers working in a non-work-like atmosphere. At home. On the road. In the car. On the sidewalk. Off of a tablet. In other words, not at a desk in an office.
So while designers and contract furniture makers try to re-design the cubicle and make the office a more creative atmosphere, the larger issue continues unabated and often ignored: we continue to work in erratic ways and erratic locations. We continue to live and work in more flexible ways, juggling life and family and work in one great creative act. Our lifetyle, not our office or our mobile tools, is the primary driver dictating this schizophrenic behavior. So the solution won’t be better desk or a smarter office, but a clear and honest understanding of how we want to be.
(Working in the “green” world, we have become keenly aware that the answer to climate change is not some new technology. Motion sensors, PV panels, heat-transfer systems, are all great at reducing green house gas emissions. But to truly get us on a path to energy intelligence we have to honestly look at how our behavior can affect energy use and change the way we live. It’s a nice day today. And we just got another obscene electricity bill in the mail. Today we turned off the ACs and opened the windows. Simple and effective.)
The related question, of course, is our varied lifestyle conducive to being productive? While each of us exhibits our individual creativity, very few jobs get accomplished in solitude. Work spaces need places for conversation, team work, and the freedom to collaborate and ideate. But does too much freedom lead to chaos? While a desk can be confining, I find it helps me focus and deliver. Personally, I could not do my job effectively if I were constantly on the run and dialing in from coffee shops. While I could use a better desk. What I really need is a better calendar.