Freedom to Connect: Human-Centric Workplace Ecosystem in Cities and Regions – Part 4

In this article, we will discuss how our new connections, made under Freedom to Connect, are larger, mobile, and more personally tailored than before.  With these characteristics, they will enrich the lives people create (Freedom to Create), enliven the places people choose to live and work (Freedom to Choose), and support and develop businesses.

Yoko’s snapshot: I mainly work in three places, the town where my home office is, New Haven where I teach, and New York where I visit my clients. While at home for example, I collaborate virtually with Yvonne on this article series, the outcomes of which connect me to the readers from all over the world. I drive to New Haven to teach in a hybrid system, having some students in the classroom, some others virtually on the West Coast or in Asia. While in New Haven, I meet other faculty members or visit local businesses such as bookstores or coffee shops. Compared to before the pandemic, some of my New York visits are now replaced by virtual meetings, but I still enjoy trying some new restaurants there after work.

The new connections are on two levels, one virtual and the other in real/physical.
The new connections are on two levels, one virtual and the other in real/physical.

Wider and Larger Connections

Advancing technology allows you to connect with whom you want, in the ways you want. The freedom to choose places to live and work that we discussed in a previous article makes it possible for you to connect with communities rooted in those places. As a result of these two factors, you now have the larger Freedom to Connect with people, places, and communities than before in the large-scale workplace ecosystem.

The new connections are on two different levels, one virtual and the other in real life/physical. The range of connections is now wider, because they encompass both personal and work life, and can be from geographically larger areas or regions because of the virtual layer.

Mobile and Temporal Connections – Michiyuki

These two levels are not parallel to each other, they intertwine. When I virtually work with Yvonne on Thursday mornings, my body is in my town. When I teach on Wednesday afternoons, I meet (connect with) my students online and in-person simultaneously. The two levels of my connections meet at different places depending on where I choose to be at a certain time. This makes my connections and my community, made from these connections, more mobile and temporal, like Michiyuki traveling. . I physically travel and my connections and communities appear or disappear along the way.

New connections are more mobile and temporal, like Michiyuki traveling.
New connections are more mobile and temporal, like Michiyuki traveling.

Personal and Agile Connections – Supporting Core Life Values

Even though this may sound a bit poetic or too abstract, traveling with your connections and communities is what is happening every day when you work and live just like in my above snapshot. It naturally makes the choice of, and ways for the connection, more personally tailored. You may even call these connections human-centric ones, which is different from place-based connections (i.e. traditional village community) or business-to-business connections.

People and places you choose to connect with enrich the space and time-schedules you create. I choose to connect to the New Haven local community by visiting shops, which feeds my love for arts and literature, for instance.  A working mother who chooses to work from home makes friends (connect) with neighbors, who become her supporting network for her family life1Vujionic, Natalija, Philippa Williams and Carolyn Boyd. “Mothers’ integration of work, home and community in master planned communities: what’s different?” Community, Work & Family, Vol. 16, No.1, February 2013, pp.63-87. Just like Freedom to Create, as we discussed in the last article, Freedom to Connect is often practiced to support the core values of a person’s life.

These connections are flexible because they are personal and because of the virtual component. When the pandemic started, my connections to New York became more virtual than physical. The transition was relatively easy, since this personalization was already built into my work system. If a business does not have a large-scale ecosystem that allows Freedom to Connect, the transitions of employees would be more difficult.

Freedom to Connect to Enliven Places

Some criticize that the mobile, temporal, and personal connections weaken people’s ties to physical places. This is not so. My ties to New Haven remain strong even though my connections have become mobile, temporal and personal. Research shows that when people do remote work, they do frequent the local businesses2Kawai, Yoko and Yoshimitsu Shiozaki (2004) “Physical Environment of Connecticut State Teleworkers.” Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering. 3(2): 327-334.

In addition, people connect to places through their work and businesses in the large-scale workplace ecosystem. To perform your work or practice business, you use local resources and in turn provide resources to others in the area. This two-way relationship with the local community is not only deeper than the one-way connection in which you just buy services and products, but also positively develops the economy and activities of the place.

Loma Linda, CA,  built its own fiber network  to be tied with the city’s business development .
Loma Linda, CA, built its own fiber network to be tied with the city’s business development .

A key element that a place needs for people to connect is a broadband network. Surprisingly many communities in the U.S. do not have one and they need to rectify this if they want to be a part of the large-scale workplace ecosystem. The city of Loma Linda in California built its own fiber network in 2004 and successfully ties its service with the city’s business development and improvement of residents’ life3Kawai, Yoko and Yumiko Horita (2008) “Work-life Community by Telework- Possibilities and Issues in the Case of Loma Linda,” Journal of Green Building 3(2):128-139.

Freedom to Connect for Businesses

We discussed how personally tailored connections made under Freedom to Connect are wider, deeper, and more flexible. The nature of these new connections of individuals also has added benefits for businesses. The connections’ expansiveness provides more opportunities to businesses and their agility makes it possible for businesses to take swift actions in times of economic and social changes or disasters.

However, businesses also need two approaches in place to take full advantage of these new connections. The first is to observe and understand the connections in their large-scale ecosystem. Proptech (property technology) discussed in our Freedom to Choose article may help businesses use data to decipher the liquid state of connections.

Businesses must revive the workplace connections in new was to leverage the new connections.

Businesses must revive the workplace connections in new was to leverage the new connections.

Old Connections Recovered through New Ways

The second approach is to ensure that connections also happen within the business itself. During the pandemic, prolonged social isolation caused depression and loneliness in many workers. At the same time, companies saw that new hires were strangers to others, and that any sense of community was lost.

We are already seeing efforts to regain the old workplace connections but in new ways. Sanchez-Burks and Sytch, for example, propose Immensely Human Interactions4Sanchez-Burks, Jeffrey and Maxim Sytch. “Reimaging the Office for Immensely Human Interactions.” MIT Sloan Management Review. June 07, 2021 which includes virtual, physical (real), and action-based approaches. They suggest having more one-to-one Zoom meetings rather than the one among many, company-funded get-togethers for workers who live in the same area, and meetings for the purpose of brainstorming or idea generation that fosters more conversational opportunities. Now that working from home is no longer mandatory, but is one of many choices available in the large-scale ecosystem, these new ways will be more easily adapted and become standard methods to connect within a business organization.

In summary,

By gaining Freedom to Connect in the large-scale workplace ecosystem, people’s connections become wider, larger and more flexible. Their connections are mobile and temporal, appearing and disappearing while they travel through places they choose according to the life they want to create, making the connections more personal. In this way, Freedom to Connect enlivens the places chosen by Freedom to Choose and supports the core life values that are the foundation of Freedom to Create. The uniqueness of these new connections benefits businesses if they leverage them correctly.

In the next article, we will be concluding this series and discussing our plans going forward for the Human-centric Work Environment.

(Written by Yoko Kawai and Yvonne Burton)