When corporate heavyweights unite behind a project it’s reasonable to conclude they see the future. Their vision? Connection courts – mall-based remote offices designed specifically for the growing mobile work force.
There are some 35 million mobile workers in the United States today, according to International Data Corp. (IDC.), and the number is growing by 10-15 percent every year. IDC says the growth rate is driven by the explosion in the use of cellular phones and other wireless devices.
The Internet Home Alliance, a cross-industry network that includes Cisco Systems, Cushcraft, Herman Miller, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Panasonic and Taubman Centers, saw promise in the market statistics from IDC and other analysts and set up the Mobile Worker Pilot. It was designed to study – in a real-world setting – what constitutes an ideal physical environment for mobile workers.
The researchers started with a question: “If you build a public work space specifically to meet the needs of mobile workers – workers who use a personal computer at least 15 percent of the time and have the freedom to work from home, the office or some ‘third place’ – will they come?
They designed a “third place,” a so-called connection court, to answer the question. Earlier research suggested that an ideal setting would include a broadband connection; a highly-secure wireless network; business services such as copying, printing and scanning; business and news programs on plasma screens; ergonomic furniture designed for a mobile work style; collaborative work areas; and food and hospitality services.
What better place than a shopping center or mall for a “third place?” They are ubiquitous and offer suitable space and facilities. They are also wheel chair accessible, and parking is never a problem. So, a pilot connection court was set up in April 2004 in a 2,400-square-foot space in an upscale shopping center located outside of Dallas, Texas, home to many Fortune 500 companies. Use of the court was open to the public from April through October 2004 and free of charge.
The research results? The Alliance reported that mobile workers had over 1,400 sessions per month at the court in the trial period. They gave it high marks for being free, comfortable for individual and collaborative work and for offering a productive atmosphere. They preferred the court to other work settings, such as copy and coffee shops and airports, because of its professional look and feel and all-around suitability for working. The facility will be kept running, according to the Alliance, as the test proved it is a viable business proposition that increased the revenues of retailers in the area. How long it will be viable is an open question. Other mobile work settings may be designed to eclipse the connection court and lure users away. But Alliance members are likely to profit regardless of the fate of the Texas site. With ongoing real-world data from the Connection Court, they can read the changes in mobile workers’ needs as they happen. What better position for eclipsing a vision?
Sources: Internethomealliance.com; Internet Data Corp.; shopswillowbend.com.