14 February 2014
"At one end of the Hybrid Lives Co-Working space in the foyer of FACT is a tall, thin wall. Pinned to the wall are photos of desks and other spaces of work. If you look at the photos at eye-level, you see someone has been working at a cafe table, a garden, a train table, the step of a house, public spaces. If you look further up the wall, you can see office desks and workshops. Higher still, and you can glimpse kitchen tables, bedroom desks, private spaces. The photos were taken using a phone app called 'Where do you go to?'. The app is a prototype, designed to let small groups of people who work together share images of where they are working. The aim of the app is to make a working 'status update' that isn't about written notes or pictures of faces. The images are displayed on a timeline of work across the wall, and sorted by privacy up the height of the space.
We have tested this app with several work teams including the Creative Exchange group designing the co-working space and researchers at the BBC R&D lab in Salford. These teams were rarely in the same room at the same time, so much of their collaboration happens through digital spaces. They share notes online, send emails, occasionally video call, share files they are working on, and so on. But our research suggested they were lacking a 'sense of place' while working together. If they were all in one office, it would be easy to wander past a colleague's desk, see what they were working on, know how busy they were without interrupting them. But in digital space, 'wandering past' is harder, a video call must be scheduled, or a specific question edited in to an email and added to the ever increasing inbox pile. And so we set out to design a 'desk sharing' app prototype to see what happens when collaborators can share 'where they are' rather than just 'what they want'.
From the images people share using the app we can see that their working patterns move through lots of physical spaces. Digital tools allow lots of types of work to be done anywhere, organising tasks with tools like email or digital production with text editors or creative software. The app often captured work in transient public space, like public parks or trains. It also captured work in private space when people were layering their working life in to their home life. The images of cafes that pop-up in the timeline of a project made us think about the work that happens in FACT, in the temporary co-working space, and elsewhere in the cafe, cinema and gallery. Every worker in a public space like FACT is actually connected digitally to many collaborators in other places. They may be checking an email from work across the other side of Liverpool before a film starts, or calling a supplier in another UK city over lunch from the cafe, or sharing a document with someone across the globe sat at a co-working table. The office has become many different physical locations at once, linked or 'overlayed' through unseen digital space.
Our drop-in workshop today (Thursday 6 Feb) will look at decoding how big the FACT workspace really is. We will be asking visitors to help us build a map of all the places in the city, country and world that FACT connects to through the individual work people are doing in the building. We will try to map where and who each email, each document, each amazon order, each podcast connects to in the world. Liverpool has always been a city of work built on connections around the world. The traditions of global trade have shifted from docks, to desks, to digital space, and continue to define the city’s outward-looking focus in the digital age."