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New World Order

Workplace Trends: A New World of Work which took place on 13 October 2021, discussed the once in a generation opportunity to reinvent work and the workplace

Moving from the traditional concepts of the workplace to a re-evaluation of knowledge workers’ needs, Environmental Psychologist and Workplace Consultant Nigel Oseland set the scene for the day by introducing us to his book, Beyond the Workplace Zoo: Humanising the Office. This looks at the design mistakes associated with the traditional office and key areas for improvement. He explained that the problem is that the sector is still obsessed with cost, efficiency and driving down space, which in turn has created the ‘workplace zoo’. The solution? A move away from an emphasis on cost to value.

Architect Key Portilla Kawamura of Studio Banana who presented remotely from Switzerland on the topic ‘Workplace to Networkplace,’ went on to question the prevailing notion that the culture of any organisation should be predicated by the idea of a headquarters. He advised we should not be so dependent on the physical glue of ‘place’ and instead embrace new ways of working.


Paul-Jervis Heath, a Founding Partner of Modern Human, and previously Head of Innovation and Chief Designer at the Cambridge University had some stirring words on opportunities to make some real changes to the way we work following the pandemic.

“Our mission is to empower and liberate people through design,” he said. “We have a once in a generation opportunity to reinvent work and change all the assumptions we had in the past and how the future of work looks like. Future historians and generations will see how we changed the course of humanity for the better or we failed to act.”

He said that clients want destination workplace spaces with enough flexibility for users to customise their own environment. Design shouldn’t be a thing that is ‘done’ to people, instead, allow people to manipulate their space for what they want to do.

Michael Fern of Edge Design Agency took this theme further with a presentation about how if the workplace is no longer the only place where work ‘gets done’, what can it offer?

He noted that most of the thinking at the moment is about what kind of workplace people are returning too when it should be more of a question of why people are returning at all. If the office is no longer ‘the place’ what is the pull? He suggested it’s much more about the human aspects of work, how a workplace should stimulate the senses, by providing an enriched space.


The afternoon session opened with a wide-ranging discussion between James Lawrence of Gensler, Mirna Gelleni from Vodafone Group, and Sudhir Saseedharan of Tetra Pak on hybrid working – whether it’s overhyped or is it here to stay.

The consensus was the latter. As Sudhir Saseedharan revealed, organisations are already reaping the benefits of utilising the diverse talents of people based all over the world. However, the proviso is that organisations must provide the right technology to support remote working.

Focusing on the experiences of those working from home, was a valuable discussion between Ergonomist Lillian Antonio and Mark Catchlove of Herman Miller Insight Group on the challenges and opportunities for home workers. No matter how limited your home working choices, according to Antonio, the minimum requirement is to use a work surface, not sit with a laptop on your knee. She also stressed that a laptop kit and separate mouse and keyboard, ideally lightweight, are extremely important to ensure safer working. She also, and many FMs who opted for this approach during the first lockdown maybe alarmed to hear – warned of the dangers in allowing staff to buy their own office furniture. Referring to the mantra SIT STAND MOVE REPEAT she recommended that people strive to move around during the day, as research has shown home workers are only moving away from their desk to go to the bathroom.


Moving onto recruitment and retention, was Psychologist and Researcher, Dhanishtha Patel of CBRE who said that for the first time in history, there are five generations represented in the workplace. Over two thirds (67 per cent) of job seekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment she said, with the newcomers into the workforce, Gen Z, very involved with social justice. These joiners want to be privy to what’s happening at the C-Suite level, and ideally a seat at a boardtable, not to talk but be kept informed. This maybe an anathema to most CEOs, but this level of transparency will only grow as its estimated that Gen Z already makes up 26 per cent of the global population.

James Saunders of The Talent Locker who specialises in recruiting for the workplace consulting and workplace change management sector had some useful insights on the current jobs picture for both applicants and recruiters. Perhaps most relevant to FMs is the range of terms now being used to describe the role, from Workplace Experience Manager, to Head of Remote. A key area employees are looking for is the quality of the workplace experience, he reiterated, whether based at home, on the beach or in the workplace.

This brought us full circle back to the key theme of the day, no matter where staff are based are you ensuring workers’ needs are being met?

About Sarah OBeirne

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