Key themes at World Workplace Europe 2021 were lessons learned from the past year, how data can help FMs make informed decisions and the folly of making any firm predictions for the future. Greg Bortkiewicz, Consultant at Magenta reports
World Workplace Europe 2021 took place on 17th and 18th March this year, and anyone playing buzzword bingo would have had a full house within an hour. This is by no means a criticism of the conference or its speakers, rather a reflection that the terms ‘hybrid work’, ‘new normal’ and ‘smart buildings’ are being bandied around with increasing frequency – and no doubt for good reason.
World Workplace Europe 2020 was one of the first events to be impacted by the pandemic and went from a physical to a virtual event almost overnight. A lot of talks this year considered the lessons learned from the past 12 months – perhaps the biggest one is that making plans or predictions is fraught with danger. Just when we think we see a clear route ahead, another roadblock appears, be it a new strain of COVID or a country going back into lockdown.
However, there were certainly some interesting sessions that considered new perspectives.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF WORK
The opening keynote was given by Anders Indset, and was as entertaining as you’d expect from a person dubbed ‘Digital Jesus’ and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Plato’. Indset spoke about how everyone is turning into a leader and tuning into the art of critical thinking.
He also suggested that the future FM leaders will be highly skilled in co-creation and collaboration, and that all of us should be more open, honest and vulnerable with each other when we return to the workplace. Vulnerability shows strength and increases trust across teams.
TECHNOLOGY AND BARRIERS TO CHANGE
One common theme was smart buildings and the use of technology. More than one speaker noted that, generally speaking, FM is a bit behind on the technology front and that this is the ideal time to address it.
While it’s all very well telling people they need to make a change, actually putting that into practice can be trickier. Deborah Nas, during her closing keynote, considered why people in general are resistant to change, especially around technology. Nas said that fear is a powerful emotion so it’s easier to focus on the negative aspects of tech, and that the same arguments have been made throughout history – from people saying that learning to write would cause us to forget things, to the telephone being an invasion of privacy.
She talked about how our individual frames of reference play such a big role in our decisions and resistance to change. If we asked parents whether they would rather see their children play with Lego or Minecraft, most would say Lego. Why? Because that’s what they did when they were young. However, Minecraft is basically Lego but with a whole host of options to build anything you like.
Nas also ran a thought experiment. What if playing video games wasn’t only the norm but in fact all our kids did before books were invented and loads of children started reading instead? We’d probably say that books are too isolating and can offer nothing compared to the rich digital environment of a video game. Essentially, we’d find the negatives because we have our set frame of reference.
This plays out in business as senior leaders are often older people with a fixed frame of reference. To remedy this and welcome in new innovation, we must listen to different people who have unique frames of reference. The disruptive (there’s another buzzword) companies build around what they need to succeed. Tesla designs, builds and sells its own cars, carries out maintenance and owns its own charging points. They became the company they needed to be to succeed.
WHAT IS HYBRID?
Hybrid has come to be a bit of a catch-all term for any type of workplace that isn’t 9-5 in the office. On the Workplace Innovator Live podcast, Simone Fenton-Jarvis asked that if a company says you can work two days a week at home, but not Monday or Friday, is that hybrid work? Or just more flexible work?
In a panel discussion looking back at the last year, the point was made that splitting the workplace into physical and digital zones misses the informal elements of the office, such as unscheduled conversations or chats around the water cooler. It was also suggested that most workplaces aren’t set-up to mesh physical and digital. If half of a meetings attendees are in the room and the other half online, will those on the video be side-lined from conversations going on in the room.
The big takeaway here is that it’s easy to talk the hybrid talk, but quite another to walk the walk.
We’ve all learned the folly of trying to make predictions. So it’s not surprising that PropTech was another major theme, with multiple speakers extolling the virtues of data, data, data. The consensus was that for FM to grab this opportunity to become a major part of business, they must use tech, analyse data and make informed, real-time decisions.
From what Magenta’s hearing from our clients and industry friends, that’s easier said than done. But World Workplace Europe undoubtedly provides a strong foundation of ideas and actions to help with the journey.