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Nine to Five? Not for Long

news1Santa Cruzans are changing the way people work
What does the future of work look like? For those struggling to find a job in this downturned economy, it may be difficult to look beyond the present to what the future may hold. But the silver lining to the terrible job market is that it shows us that the current way we work doesn’t, well, work for all of us. Many people are realizing that there are alternatives to the nine to five grind. And thanks to some Santa Cruz innovators, it’s now easier than ever to choose where, when, and how we want to work. According to them, the way we work in the future will be more flexible, under our control, and maybe even friendlier.

These fundamental changes in the nature of work are the topic of the June 24 installment of the What’s Next lecture series, “The Revolution of Work.” It’s the third segment in a five-part series put on by NextSpace Coworking + Innovation, Inc., UC Santa Cruz, and the City of Santa Cruz Redevelopment Agency. Panelists will look at the topic from three different perspectives: best-selling author Rom Brafman will talk about the future of work from an organizational psychology perspective; Joyce Shimizu, vice president of innovation at Plantronics, will offer a technology perspective; and Beau Trincia, senior environment designer at IDEO, brings a workplace design and infrastructure perspective.

So what exactly is “The Revolution of Work?” In Santa Cruz, the underlying theme seems to be more flexibility and making how we work fit better in our lives. In the words of Shane Pearlman, of Shane & Peter, “The future of work is people who are taking control of their own time and their financial future.”

Shane & Peter is a “freelance cooperative” that coordinates freelance contractors to work on big technological projects for well-known companies. “What we basically do is pick good people, coordinate them, pick a project manager to run the project and take a lot of the variability out of freelancing,” says Pearlman. The result: companies don’t have to put all their eggs in one freelancer’s basket. And freelancers get more stability, allowing them to take on bigger, more long-term projects without worrying how they’ll survive until their paycheck arrives in the mail (the cooperative pays them rather than the company).

Pearlman thinks that as more resources like the cooperative become available, more people will start working for themselves. “Right now [freelancing’s] a bit like the Wild West,” he says. “There are a few really good gunmen and there are a lot of people getting shot. If companies start providing solutions that make this easier, you’re going to see a lot more people doing it.”

Enter local businesses like NextSpace and Satellite Telework Centers, Inc., whose M.O. is to make it easier for individuals to work for themselves by providing resources, infrastructure, and a sense of community. Jeremy Neuner, co-founder of NextSpace, says co-working is the way of the future. “People are less and less tied these days to traditional offices and working for traditional companies because of technology allowing people to have a lot more flexibility in where and how they work,” he says. “Also, people are trying to take control of their lives a little bit … The provocative thing that we say is that in the future economy, everybody’s going to be self-employed.”

He envisions that rather than going from job to job, as many people do these days, they’ll hop from project to project. He says this is particularly relevant for Santa Cruz. “We have very few [big employers] in Santa Cruz,” says Neuner. “Instead, we have a lot of people who are entrepreneurs and independent consultants, working from home or working out of coffee shops …The idea that you can be a freelancer or an independent consultant is not something that’s outside of the norm, it’s becoming the new norm and NextSpace is helping people do that.”

Satellite offers similar services to NextSpace, but with a very different philosophy. Initially located in Felton, Satellite will open another location in the new Sentinel building in early to mid-October. Whereas places like NextSpace “really put an emphasis on collaboration among the different members,” says Satellite co-founder Jim Graham, “what we find with the people who like our space is they’re either start-ups or consultants or home-based business people and they do their collaboration someplace else, and then come here for the quiet time when they need to get their work done.”

That doesn’t mean they’re all seriousness—people can bring their dogs along, get a cup of coffee and chat in the café, or use the conference room for group activities like book clubs, yoga, and even speed-dating. But the main area remains a quiet zone for people to focus on their individual work.

Graham says that many of the people who come to  Satellite already telework, but just don’t want to work from home. “You can spend the entire day talking to your cats,” jokes Graham. “You want a little bit of human interaction. People come in, grab a cubicle and work for a few hours, then go stretch their legs and grab a cup of coffee and talk to the other people.”

So is that the future of the office space? Is the traditional workplace becoming obsolete? It’s hard to say. But in the meantime, you may see at least one positive change in the traditional workplace—it may be getting friendlier, according to Brafman, one of the panelists at the June 24 lecture. Brafman is a psychologist and co-author of “Click: The Magic of Instant Connections.” “Click” explores the factors that determine whether people “click” in certain moments and why we click with certain people as opposed to other people. Brafman says that encouraging these connections between employees and pairing employees who do click together on projects actually increases creativity and productivity in the workplace.

“The more we can bring our friendships to work and the friendships that we have at work into our personal lives, and the more that there’s a cohesiveness to it, the more creative and productive we become,” says Brafman.

That may seem counterintuitive to those of us who were taught growing up that we shouldn’t form teams with friends “because you’ll just talk, talk, talk and not get any work done,” says Brafman. “But research actually shows the opposite—we do really well around friends. When we’re around people we click with, it’s a lot easier to be ourselves and open up and to allow ourselves to throw out all these silly or crazy ideas.” And, sometimes, those crazy ideas might just be great ideas.

From what he’s seen, Brafman says the Bay Area is ahead in embracing this concept. “The Bay Area is on the leading front of accepting friendships and accepting clicking and really valuing it as a part of work,” he says. “I don’t think people here frown on mixing business with pleasure as much as they would in other areas.”

To hear more from Brafman and the other panelists, check out “The Revolution of Work” lecture Thursday, June 24, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center. Redtree Properties, the company responsible for the Delaware Addition, is sponsoring this particular lecture, and architect Mark Primack will make the opening remarks. The Delaware Addition, a 20-acre live/work community on the Westside, is also a revolution in the way we live and work in Santa Cruz. According to Managing Director Craig French, the space isn’t “just about live and work, it’s also about the ability for businesses to stay within our community.”

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