Photo Tour: City of Edmonton offices in the Edmonton Tower

About a month ago I had the opportunity to tour the brand new City of Edmonton offices in the Edmonton Tower. The City is the largest tenant in the new building, leasing a total of 17 floors (with a 20 year lease). The goal is to consolidate a number of existing City offices into the new tower, which will house about 2,300 City employees when the move is complete later this year.

Our tour began on the sixth floor, which will be home to members of the Sustainable Development department. Robert Guenther, Project Director of the City’s Civic Accommodation Transformation, and Scott Varga, Workspace Design Lead, showed us around. They told us the project is on track to achieve the LEED Gold designation.

City offices in the new Edmonton Tower

As you might expect, the offices feature an open floorplan but have been organized into “neighbourhoods” to group colleagues together. Throughout each floor there are desks, shared desks or hotelling spaces, breakout rooms, meeting rooms of various sizes, and a variety of other types of workspaces. The walkways felt a little cramped at times, but the workstations themselves felt spacious and inviting.

City offices in the new Edmonton Tower

Employees are encouraged to work where and how they want to, and that includes in the large cafe space that is on each floor. It is intended to be more than just a kitchen, with movable furniture (they pointed out “things on casters” a few times during the tour) and tech amenities to facilitate meetings. The City refers to this varied way of working as “alternative work strategies” and they think it’ll help to attract and retain employees. At the same time, they expect about 90% of staff will work “similarly” to how they did in other offices.

City offices in the new Edmonton Tower

On the sixth floor we got to see a pretty neat drafting area, basically a large standing desk with storage underneath surrounded by whiteboards. Other floors might have something different in that location, something more suited to the work being done there.

City offices in the new Edmonton Tower

Every workstation features a sit-stand desk, which I think is amazing! The furniture all looks brand new but is mostly stuff the City already had, refurbished using recycled materials. About 40% of the furniture, including the walls of the cubicles, have been repurposed from elsewhere.

City offices in the new Edmonton Tower

Each floor features roughly 118 workstations and will be home to an average of 130 people. Every employee gets a locked cabinet for their stuff, but some employees will not have their own desks. Those employees will use the hotelling desks that are available, or the meeting spaces.

City offices in the new Edmonton Tower

There are about 25 meeting rooms on each floor, with the nicest conference rooms located on the exterior walls which means they feature lots of natural light. Speaking of light, all the light fixtures are LED and they’re dimmable. Smart monitoring systems will adjust the brightness of the lights depending on how bright it is outside. Other sensors monitor and automatically adjust air, heat, and other systems. The offices are climate controlled using “chilled beam radiant heating/cooling” in the ceiling, and apparently this is just the second office in Edmonton to use the technology (PCL’s headquarters is the other).

City offices in the new Edmonton Tower

There are a variety of breakout areas throughout each floor plus small meeting rooms called “now rooms”. One of the most interesting things about the office is that the walls are all component-based and can be taken down and moved in a couple of hours. That means that rooms are not 100% silent, but I went inside one and closed the door and had to strain to hear the folks outside. Additionally, the ceiling on each floor features a unique sound masking system that produces a sort of white noise that can be made louder or quieter as required.

City offices in the new Edmonton Tower

It was a bit harder to see all of the tech featured in the new offices, but it’s there, mostly behind-the-scenes like the smart sensor systems mentioned previously. Internet access is full gigabit, with increased wi-fi capacity compared to previous City offices. The building will also feature Open City Wi-Fi for guests. In an effort to continue reducing paper use, many meeting spaces feature Chrome boxes and the associated A/V to facilitate web meetings and document presentation.

City offices in the new Edmonton Tower

The outside of the Edmonton Tower features the revised, sans-serif City of Edmonton logo on the east and west sides of the building. Though it is often referred to as “the City tower” or something along those lines, it is officially just called “Edmonton Tower”.

Edmonton Tower

There’s nothing on the south side (which features the distinctive curve) but the north side is home to a large 4K screen that will be used for art and messaging (not ads), as captured in this photo by Jeff Wallace:

Ice District - Flag Wavin'

The City’s move to the tower began on November 4, and every two weeks or so another group of employees move in. The City expects the move to be complete this summer. They are upgrading Century Place, where some staff will remain, and Chancery Hall is also expected to remain in use by City staff for the time being.

Over the next couple of months you can expect new public art on the main floor of the Edmonton Tower. Next month, the brand new Edmonton Service Centre will open on the second floor, providing a one-stop shop for City services like transit, permits, and licenses.

You can see more photos of the workspace here. For more on the importance of office design, see this PDF report featuring the Civic Accommodation Transformation project.

OneNote + OneDrive = Awesome

Without good tools to keep me organized, I’d be totally scatterbrained and lost. Well, good tools and an understanding partner who helps me keep on top of things! I have tried a bunch of different tools over the years, but two in particular have become absolutely critical: OneNote and OneDrive. This isn’t a sponsored post, I just want to share two tools that have really made a difference for me. Maybe they’ll have a positive impact on your life too!


OneNote has developed into an amazing tool since it was launched over ten years ago. I originally used it locally on my computer to keep track of typed notes. I also had a Tablet PC, so I would use it for handwriting too. OneNote supports more advanced features also, like audio or video notes, photo notes, smart tags, document scanning, screen clippings, and much more.

Here’s an overview of the new OneNote:

I use OneNote many times a day, across most of my devices. I track my computer activity with RescueTime, so I know with certainty that OneNote is consistently in the top five applications by usage. It works on my desktop, my laptop, my Surface, and my phone. I run Windows everywhere, but even if your devices are a bit more varied, OneNote can work for you. There are apps for Android, iPad, and iPhone too. There’s even a web app.

At the moment I have two high level notebooks – one for personal stuff and one for work stuff. When I’m doing research for a blog post, I store everything in OneNote. I’ll even write some of my drafts there. I keep recipes, lists, and ideas in my personal notebook. My work notebook is filled mainly with meeting notes, often captured in ink using my Surface Pro, but I also use it for UI reviews, to keep track of technologies I’m exploring, and a variety of other things.

One of the greatest things about OneNote is the search. The ability to organize notes into sections is handy, and if you use tags you can quickly find any note that has a specific tag. But most of the time I just search. The best part is that OneNote will even search my handwritten notes, without any conversion to text. It’s surprisingly accurate, and it’s this feature that I typically demo to people when I’m showing them OneNote on my Surface. Support for this was added years ago and it still never fails to amaze.


OneDrive is the new name for SkyDrive, which first launched in 2007. It’s kind of like DropBox in that it is a place in the cloud to store your files. You get 7 GB of storage space for free, and it’s pretty easy and expensive to boost that amount.

Here’s an overview of the new OneDrive:

Again, OneDrive works across all of my devices, and again, there are apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iPad, and iPhone. There’s even an Xbox app, which comes in handy when you want to show some photos (which are stored automatically on OneDrive as I take them with my phone).

I put all kinds of stuff in my OneDrive (I’ve got over 47 GB of storage total, 20 GB of which comes from my Office 365 subscription). Everything I scan using my Doxie goes into OneDrive. Documents, presentations, audio recordings, graphics, mind maps, blog post drafts in MarkDown, – you name it, I store it in OneDrive.

Using OneDrive I don’t worry as much about backups (though I still use Backblaze and a few other approaches to do regular backups). Using OneDrive means I rarely have use for USB sticks, because my files are always in sync, across all my devices. OneDrive has completely changed the way I think about file storage, for the better.

The one and only feature I desperately want for OneDrive is co-owned folders, to bring DropBox-like folder sharing to the platform (you can share and collaborate on documents now, but I want to have an entire folder that is kept in sync across multiple OneDrive accounts). The good news is that the co-owner feature is apparently coming very soon.

OneNote & OneDrive are better together

The magic happens when you store your OneNote notebooks on OneDrive. All of the new Microsoft Office apps support logging in with a Microsoft Account, so it makes it super easy to do. I think this approach is probably the default for the phone and tablet apps too.

With OneNote on OneDrive, it doesn’t matter what device I’m using, because my notebooks are kept up-to-date with changes. The sync is completely automatic and fast. So fast actually, that it fits into a 6 second Vine:

I rely on this each and every day, so I’m glad I have never run into a sync problem. I can take some notes at home, walk over to the office, and pick up right where I left off on a completely different computer. I regularly take notes on my phone when I’m at an event, and when I get back to a computer to start blogging about it, I don’t need to worry about where my notes are. They’re always there, ready for me.

These two tools have made a big difference in my life. If you want to give OneDrive a spin, use this referral link and we’ll both get an extra 0.5 GB of storage space for free. If you want to try OneNote, you can download it for free here.

More on co-working

coworking A couple weeks ago I posted about WorkSpace in Vancouver, and suggested it would be good to have something similar in Edmonton. Clearly I’m not the only one, as there were quite a few comments on both that post and Twitter. Cam posted a link to Edmonton’s Beans and Boardrooms, which while not quite the same concept, looks interesting.

Last week Sharon sent me this Globe and Mail article on Citizen Space in San Francisco:

Sebastien Provencher takes the bus into San Francisco for another day at the office. At the third-floor loft of Citizen Space, he sits at a desk, fires up his laptop and gets to work.

This type of service, known as co-working, lets travellers like Provencher rent a desk in a communal setting. Once mainly the province of tech-oriented freelancers, co-working centres are attracting a broader spectrum of consultants and small-business people in search of space to work – and network – on the road.

Citizen Space and WorkSpace sound very similar. The most interesting part of the article is found near the end:

Today, there are co-working sites across the country that welcome out-of-town visitors, including others in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Thunder Bay; others in Calgary, Guelph, Ont., and Halifax are in various stages of development.

And not surprisingly, given their appeal to jet setters, co-working sites are establishing global connections. The Hub, which is scheduled to open this fall in Halifax, will be linked to 13 sites worldwide including space in London, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv and Sao Paulo. Members of one site will get privileges at the other spaces.

You can check out The Hub Halifax here (and their excellent links page here). Being connected to other sites around the world would be good for travellers, but I think WorkSpace and The Hub probably have very different clientele for the most part.

Apparently WorkSpace and Citizen Space are trying to form a similar network. I think that makes sense. As more and more similar spaces crop up, those connections will become really valuable.

I’m curious to know what’s going on Calgary – anyone have any information?

Who knows if or when something will get going here in Edmonton, but at least we know there are existing resources and people to tap into for help.

Edmonton could use a place like WorkSpace

A few years ago I started reading about shared workspaces. In particular, I was interested in what Boris Mann started calling The Innovation Commons – a place for “creatives” to gather and feed off one another. These are physical places, with tables and chairs and Internet connections. They are perfect for programmers, designers, mobile workers, and others who don’t necessarily need office space of their own. I love the concept, and I am happy to see it catching on in a number of places. In Toronto, there’s the Centre for Social Innovation and in Vancouver, there’s WorkSpace. I took some time to visit WorkSpace when I was there a couple weeks ago.


Located at 21 Water Street in Gastown, WorkSpace is in a historic and unique area of Vancouver. It’s fourth floor view of the harbour is quite impressive. Sharon and I met Dane Brown, who gave us a quick tour and let us explore the place for a bit. There are small offices that can be used for breakout rooms, a larger meeting room, and lots of open space with tables and chairs. There are also private offices available, and a small cafe at the front. WorkSpace is even equipped with a shower!

Instead of renting space as you would in a traditional office building environment, WorkSpace is membership-based. For $95 per month, you can use the space after 4:30pm on weekdays and all day Saturday and Sunday. The rates go up from there. Full-time access costs $495 per month, and the private desks cost $595 per month. There are also drop-in prices available, starting at $25 for half a day. WorkSpace currently has about 70 members.

I think Edmonton could definitely use something like WorkSpace. Dickson and I originally got an office for Paramagnus because we knew that being in the same room together often has a really positive effect. We ended up getting rid of the office because we didn’t need it all the time, and it got to be too expensive. WorkSpace would have given us the best of both worlds.

There are lots of interesting, creative people in Edmonton working from their bedrooms and basements. Opportunities to connect are somewhat rare though, limited to events like BarCamp. I can’t even begin to imagine how positive something like WorkSpace would be!

I know I’d be a paying member if we had something like WorkSpace in Edmonton. What do you think? Would you find such a facility useful?

Pros and cons of telecommuting

telecommuting The company I work for, Questionmark, is a big believer in telecommuting. As a result, I work from home usually two days a week. We were talking about it in the office this week, and this article in the New York Times made me think about it again recently:

Gasoline has become the new workplace perk, as employers scramble to help workers cut its use and cost. A dollar a gallon ago, things like telecommuting, shortened workweeks and Internet subsidies were ways of saving time and providing workers with a little more balance in their lives. Now they have become ways to save money and to keep workers from, well, walking.

Saving money on gas is definitely a good thing about telecommuting. Not everything about it is positive though. Here are some pros and cons for me.


  • I save money on gas, likely extend the life of my vehicle, and get to avoid traffic headaches.
  • Rolling out of bed and turning on the computer is great. No need to rush around and get ready! This also helps with really early morning meetings.
  • If I need to run a quick errand, it’s easy to do so.
  • Often there are less distractions, and I can really focus on something.


  • It’s really easy to eat too much. With the kitchen a few steps away, I find myself snacking more than I would in the office.
  • No air conditioning in my apartment…when it’s 30 degrees outside, the A/C in the office is definitely nice.
  • Sometimes to solve a problem you simply need to talk to someone else in person.
  • Technology isn’t perfect, and sometimes the VOIP phones fail or for whatever reason I can’t connect to something I need.

You can read more about telecommuting at Wikipedia.

Another popular trend is the shortened work week, where you work four ten hour days instead of five. That would definitely save money on the commute too, but again would have pros and cons.

Seems to me that the standard 9 to 5, five day work week is becoming a bit antiquated. At the very least, more and more organizations are comfortable experimenting with alternate schedules and ways of working.

How do you keep track of things?

post it notesI’m a bit of a scatterbrain at times, I’ll admit that. I generally need to write something down if I want to have any hope of remembering it later. If an event is not in my calendar, I’ll almost certainly miss it. I also find that I’m terrible at keeping track of paper, so I try to avoid post-it notes whenever possible. Here are some of the tools I currently use to help me keep track of things (tasks, ideas, events, etc):

As you can see, it’s not a small list. You might think that there’d be quite a bit of overlap between these, but there isn’t really. For instance, I use RTM for tasks, things I actually need to do something about. In contrast, I mainly use OneNote for brainstorming.

For the most part, this toolset helps me keep track of things. It’s not the most efficient system in the world though, and I wonder if there’s something better? For a creative person such as myself, who loves to read and has a million thoughts and ideas a day, what tools exist to help keep track of it all? It’s like I need something to help annotate my life.

Maybe a new tool isn’t the solution. I don’t regularly review the items in each of the tools above, which might be something I should start doing.

Why the Facebook ban will be lifted within two years

Post ImageAccording to the Globe and Mail, government employees in Ontario have been banned from accessing Facebook. Kristen at Mashable points out that YouTube, online poker, and various other sites are also banned. And Mark Evans points to this story about TD Bank banning Facebook during business hours. There are undoubtedly many other major organizations that have banned access to Facebook and other social networking sites.

I think these bans are ridiculous. And Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty makes it easy to understand why:

“I think Facebook is predominantly a social network. It has its value, but we just don’t really see how it adds value to work that you do in the workplace.”

You sir, Mr. McGuinty, are an idiot.

When you don’t understand something, the correct course of action is to learn about it. Admit you don’t know something, and then find out what it is that you don’t know!

The idea that work exists only between the hours of 9 to 5, and only in your place of business, is dead. Welcome to the 21st century. Human behaviour has changed, and it’s time that the workplace caught up.

I am reminded of something Leonard Brody said yesterday (I am paraphrasing here):

People often say “oh email, instant messaging, there’s too much information, I can’t take it!” Well, you’re all liars. You thrive on more.

It’s true. Employees today can be incredibly productive, so long as their employers make it possible. Banning them from something like Facebook isn’t going to help. There are no doubt many people working for the Ontario government who are part of an older generation, one that isn’t trained to be connected all the time. Perhaps banning Facebook won’t affect them much.

The ban sets a dangerous precedent, however. The next generation of workers the government hires simply won’t stand for it. They are fundamentally different, wired to be connected 24/7. To them, Facebook is both entertainment and work. It’s a tool, not a time-waster. They’ll use it to connect with friends, and they’ll use it to connect with colleagues. Banning Facebook for these workers will definitely hinder their productivity.

Don’t be surprised to read about the Ontario government reversing this decision sometime in the next two years. I don’t think they’ll have any other choice.

Read: Mashable