A few thoughts: It’s a Sunday and I’m sitting in a coffee shop with my laptop. Sharing my table is a friend of mine who works in a very different field to myself, although we share a lot of similar thoughts and ideas. He also lent me some good headphones, so listening to Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings ‘Naturally‘ sounds incredible (I recommend it, by the way). I’m writing this blog post which isn’t necessarily essential work but something slightly different.
Albeit a simple, somewhat prosaic, example, this nicely frames some of my recent ideas towards working. I do not wish to claim that I am saying anything new at this stage, but I want to build upon this.
Now it is worth noting that mobile working is not a new concept. Frank Duffy highlights this in ‘Work and The City’ through the example of Samuel Pepys, whilst the coffee shop has long been a place of work and discussion (thinking back to David Harvey’s ‘Paris, Capital of Modernity’ – one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time).
In a contemporary context, as a result of wireless technologies, a shift in much work towards ‘post-Fordism’ amongst other factors, work can no longer be conceptualised as, confined to or reduced to, a five-day week from 9am to 6pm (or occasionally 10am-4pm if you’re lazy like me). Mobile, flexible working allows (forces?) people to work on trains, in coffee shops, in hotels at what ever time they want or need to. Again, I’m saying nothing revolutionary, here.
I’ve currently been working in a co-working space in part to think about my research about workspaces, but also to rejuvenate my own work and sanity. One aspect which I find fascinating is how the co-work space provides a location for all different entrepreneurs, mobile workers, students etc. whilst fostering an enjoyable environment and a pleasant atmosphere, all the while creating a network of friends and loads of interesting conversations. This has got me thinking, what does the future of office work look like? If co-location and synchrony are becoming less important for certain types of jobs, how will cities develop in relation to this? Industry shaped the urban fabric in the 19th century, and transport helped facilitate the growth of the suburbs in the 20th century. Cities often have business districts, quarters and similar focal points for specific types of working, which can often mean that they lie deserted at certain times and huge numbers of desks sit empty. Can new ways of working simultaneously make work more enjoyable whilst creating healthier cities both socially and environmentally?
Now, thanks to my aforementioned co-working friend, I was pointed in the direction of ‘The Idler’. I’ll properly read some of their publications, but from my brief overview, it appears to fundamentally question how and why we work. In a suitably idle way, I turned to Wikipedia to locate a nice quote:
[a] characteristic of the idler’s work is that it looks suspiciously like play. This, again, makes the non-idler feel uncomfortable. Victims of the Protestant work ethic would like all work to be unpleasant. They feel that work is a curse, that we must suffer on this earth to earn our place in the next. The idler, on the other hand, sees no reason not to use his brain to organise a life for himself where his play is his work, and so attempt to create his own little paradise in the here and now.
The Idler has more control, freedom and choice over their work. Surely this autonomy is what we should all be looking for in order to make the inevitability of work much more enjoyable? For me, this involves a blurring of what is work and what is not (whilst not being exploited or trapped by this), and the spaces in which we can do this is a fundamental aspect.