Freedom to Create: Human-centric Workplace Ecosystem in Cities and Regions – Part 3

In this article, we will discuss the second freedom, Freedom to Create, associated with the large-scale workplace ecosystem in the New Normal.

When you are able to truly choose spaces and places to live and work (Freedom to Choose) as shown in the last article, you also gain the power to design your everyday life in terms of both space and time, more freely than when your life was restricted by a commute. This is Freedom to Create. Imagine you are an actor and producer of a movie. You plan, create, and travel through various sets for different acts of your everyday life.  The sets included in this travel (Michiyuki) are spatial nodes in which you work and live (home, office) as well as in-between spaces such as streets, shops, and subways. How do you use and interact with these spaces to create your life? At what time in a day or which day of the week do you want to be on any particular stage?

Creating Space and Time at and around Your Home

For years, I (Yoko) have observed through my research that, when gaining Freedom to Create, people do so based on their core values in life. The values could be their family, life purpose, or improvement of society. 

For example, in the decades before the pandemic, a mother teleworking from home1ink, Daniel H. (2001) Free Agent Nation: How America’s New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Books started to integrate her family and private time, such as taking care of children or doing volunteer work, in-between the working hours. This might involve working from 9-12pm, taking a 2-hour break, and then back to work from 2-7pm. This extends the work day but she believes the quality of her life improved because of this freedom. This satisfaction and happiness due to Freedom to Create aligns with the motivation of many workers who would like continue working remotely after the current pandemic.

Walking on the beach between work activities
Walking on the beach between work activities

Yvonne’s snapshot: In my new ‘home’, I use the entire home as my workspace depending on what type of activity I am performing. For my workshops or client meetings, I sit at my workstation that I have set up. For other activities, I take my laptop to the kitchen breakfast bar or living room which is more comfortable. I take breaks throughout the day and go out on the lanai (porch) or if more than an hour, I go to my favorite smoothie shop or coffee shop about a 5 minute car ride away.  If I have a long break between work activities, I ride my bike to the beach or walk to my neighborhood park. This extends my work day but I have hours in the middle of the day where I get to live my life. 

When working from home, houses are now for work and living. The degree to how people merge or separate the two depends on what they value. Some want clear separation for focus and primarily use dedicated spaces for work. Others want co-existence of work-life because their goals for work and life overlaps, or because they expect and want to take advantage of the atmosphere of home which is different from that of typical offices. In either case, currently available houses with clear program distinctions for each room (bedroom, living room, kitchen) are not ready for the new creative ways in which work and life will be woven together in a single structure. Instead, houses need to be designed with nodes and nudges connected by smaller-scale Michiyuki within the structure as we discussed in our previous article.

Using In-between Spaces and Time

Freedom to Create extends to in-between spaces, outside of home offices and traditional offices. People incorporate urban spaces into their work-life. I found people working in their cars in a quiet parking lot between client visits, in their favorite café sitting at their favorite table where they feel comfortable and safe, or on a train with a reserved corner seat. We will see more of these small spatial interventions when people start doing Michiyuki traveling within the large-scale workplace ecosystem.

In-between spaces are not only for work but also for life. In addition to streets, shops, cafes, schools, and churches, small-scale urban greenings (small green spaces) have been gaining attention to nurture and promote human health. The importance of these in-between spaces for work and life has been largely overlooked in the last century while the majority of people commuted to work in the city every day.  We need to build a new ecosystem of cities and regions to accommodate in-between spaces to support Freedom to Create.

A cafe as in-between space both for work and life
A cafe as in-between space both for work and life

Yvonne’s snapshot: I enjoy my work but I value my free-time, mental health, and well-being. This keeps me balanced and able to perform at my best. I take frequent breaks during my workday to recharge by taking a walk in my backyard or around the neighborhood. I sit by the pool or just walk to a different room for a change of scenery. I sometimes go to a local cafe and work for a few hours in order to have more interaction with people and to prevent feelings of isolation.

Co-working spaces as Spatial Nodes: Fostering the Core Values of Life

Coworking spaces are unique in that they could be spatial nodes or in-between spaces depending on how workers and businesses use them to support Freedom to Create.

Some co-working spaces focus on the core values that members share, and functions as a spatial node. One such example is Tahoe Mountain Lab in South Lake Tahoe, California. Each of its members “has chosen to live deliberately in Lake Tahoe to partake in the lifestyle the area offers,” according to its founder in an interview with me in 2017. Members, often professionals, moved there because they feel “the coexistence of outdoor life, family life, and work-life in a single place is wonderful.”

Since their core values are strongly tied to the place, its community, and its prosperity, the Lab is exceptionally open to the community.  For a small membership, it has a disproportionately large conference room where it holds community events, such as children’s science camp and mentorship events for local youth and businesses.

Urban Co-working Spaces as In-between Spaces

Point0, a network of coworking places in Japan
Point0, a network of coworking places in Japan

Some other coworking spaces, often urban ones with multiple locations, serve more than one purpose relating to Freedom to Create. One is to be in-between spaces for individuals who carry out everyday Michiyuki and to provide them chances to meet people to ease possible issue of loneliness. The other is for a business (employer) to have accesses to a network of workplaces with which it can gain business benefits (i.e. agility, collaboration) while providing its employees support in their Freedom to Create.

Point0 in Japan is an excellent example. Many of its members are major Japanese companies that are interested in collaboration among themselves to redefine the concept of work, and create new products and services out of it. At the same time, Point0 offers small coworking spaces in convenient locations such as in and near train stations and urban hotels in which employees of member companies can work in minimum units of 15 minutes. 

In Summary,

As one of three freedoms brought by the larger scale workplace ecosystem, Freedom to Create allows you to design your everyday life more freely than ever before. Many use this freedom to support and enhance their values in life. Typical homes, as well as the existing system of in-between spaces, need to be redesigned to accommodate this freedom better. Coworking spaces are becoming useful spatial nodes and in-between spaces to support this freedom for both individuals and businesses.

In the next article, we will discuss Freedom to Connect.

(Written by Yoko Kawai and Yvonne Burton)