Sunday, September 04, 2011


I have been getting some great feedback (through email and twitter) on my recent posts on ethics and emotions in decision making.  I will get back to that next week.  But in the interest of Labor Day, I want to focus this weekend on issues related to new ways of working.

Today, I want to focus on a new model for Telecommuting and the Virtual Office.  Many varieties of this have been tried.  Some people simply work at home.  The advantages are the short commute, the availability of all your stuff (work files, snacks, office supplies), but there are lots of distractions.  Some people work at the local coffee shop.  The advantages are free Wi-Fi and fewer distractions (and easy access to caffeine), but not a very work-friendly environment.  Families come in with children arguing over the last jelly donut.  My previous favorite was the Bricolage shared workspace.  An office space would be set up with a shared receptionist, copy machine, etc. and different businesses/consultants/or teleworkers could rent on office or cubicle, bring their own laptop, hook into a shared network, and have half of the comforts of work, but still lots of flexibility.  And company from the other solo-ists.  Some of these offices intentionally focus on one sector.  If everyone in the space is working in the fashion industry, you can benefit from those stereotypical watercooler conversations and chance meetings in the elevator.

The new one I want to share with you is the model being used by Ace Hotel in San Francisco and now New York.  This is sort of a combination of the coffee shop and bricolage models, but in a unique way.  The lobby of the hotel is set up with co-working tables and Wi-Fi.  So unlike Starbucks, there are between 4 and 10 different teleworkers at each table.  Even though they are all individuals, the proximity is supposed to promote transfer of ideas, or at least transfer of energy.  It’s also a bit fancy-schmancy, so instead of Starbucks there is John Dory’s Oyster Bar and the Breslin Bistro.  The higher prices change the demographic of who works here.  It tends to be higher level professionals than you would find at Dunkin Donuts.  This also changes the aura of the place and customers claim they can be much more productive.  And since it is also a trendy hotel, you see people like Norah Jones having lunch by the window.  That gives it an added vibe too.

I am not sure this is necessarily better or worse than any others.  But it serves a different kind of teleworker.

Filtering the Knowledge-verse

In previous generations, the limitations on most knowledge workers was access to knowledge.  You could be a brilliant scholar, but still spend hours, days, and months, trying to track down the results of a study or a theory you had heard about.

Now, we have access to a deluge of information at the tips of our fingers, and the challenge is finding the good stuff.  At home, companies like Netflix, Facebook, and Youtube have been innovating in many ways to maximize the value of what you are shown.  Collaborative filtering techniques using things you have already looked at or what your friends have looked up add some precision to their algorithms.  Explicit preference surveys can help too and are frequently used by news sites.

But at work, this is harder.  The information that would help you most at being more productive on this project or that process is harder to pin down and more important to get a very high precision.  Knowledge networks, Intranet collaboration networks, and other models are being experimented with by companies such as IBM, Cisco, and NASA.  I am currently working on a project that is still under the covers but focuses on doing this for independent consultants and researchers to share ideas, results, and best practices.  The promise of these kinds of filtering systems that combine algorithms, insights, and social networking is tremendous.  Hopefully it won’t turn into one of those ideas that is 10 years from really working, and always will be.