Does work really have an address?

Every year in May Cebit (an annual technology expo in Sydney) shakes up my ideas about how work, or in this case, where work is done. Somewhere between the 3D printers and pens and the cloud services, the tablets, servers and virtual reality, my confidence in a stable place and process for work in any business is shaken.

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For many of the people attending Cebit, one day they are in an office set up for Activity Based Work, the next day talking to start-ups with remote teams in Bangalore and then finding a quiet spot for an online meeting. In all three places the talk is very much about being productive. While the issues are different, the goal is virtually the same. Your own workplace might look more stable than that (for now). Be warned. People joining in these events were deliberately looking for ways to shake up the way you work.

So why don't we just take the word 'place' out of workplace? There is something special about sense of place, even placemaking, which can't be shaken off so easily. The talk can be around flexible work and flexible workplaces, but when it comes down to it, the person you are talking to usually focuses on just one part of the puzzle, the one which is relevant to tham at that time. they will have a perspective. You will too. While there is real interest in making the place suit the processes; the flip side is also happening. An interior designer predicts that all furniture wil be on wheels. If you put everything on wheels in a building and get people to move things around, then the place is obviously less settled, less predictable. If you put all the work on tablets, then the processes are also less settled. If you combine both of those options at once, then what you get is either exciting or chaotic depending on what you need to get done.

Asking why a particular task needs an address is a good start. Asking if work needs a formal or informal address is a better question and with that question also ask if a particular type of work or job need a formal or an informal process? Suddenly the questions about Cebit and the ABW workplace settle into some sort of order. It's about the degree of formality which serves the purpose. I saw deals go down in both places which would have never have happened anywhere else. They would have been impossible behind closed doors. So to stay productive, the focus can be on what serves what I am doing now and becoming more aware of how to design and choose selectively the environments I work in. So does your best work really have an address? And are you willing to shift addresses if you need to?