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Delegates listening to the panel debate on Day 1. Image credit Matthew Harrison

Worktech 2013: Wiring up to the future of work and the workplace

The London Worktech 2013, hosted by Unwired in the alternately freezing and warm Clore auditorium of the British Museum on 19−20 November, featured international thought leaders Jeremy Myerson, Dave Coplin, Frank Duffy, Charles Handy, Ben Waber, Philip Ross, Erik Veldhoen, Greg Lindsay and others, who offered insights on how revolutions in technology and work are shaping our future.

Marking the 10-year anniversary of Worktech, held throughout the year in cities around the world, this year’s London convention was the biggest-ever event, with over 350 delegates booked and between 270−300 attending over the two-day programme. Benugo supplied the feasts to fuel the programme, skilfully demonstrating how a café ambience can contribute to collaborative conversation – a key ingredient in utilising and extending the workspaces of the future.

Day 1 Chair Jeremy Myerson opens Worktech 2013. Image credit Matthew Harrison

Day 1 Chair Jeremy Myerson opens Worktech 2013. Image credit Matthew Harrison

Day 1 focused on the issues of collaboration, technology and people, with Jeremy Myerson, director and Helen Hamlyn chair of design the Royal College of Art, chairing and poet-in-residence Matt Harvey wittily delighting the audience with poems on the things we love and loathe about work. Future Work author Alison Maitland chaired Day 2, which featured world-leading Anglo-Irish social philosopher and author Charles Handy’s series of ‘conversations’ on the future of work and life.

Towards new ways and spaces for working

Microsoft UK’s ‘chief envisioner’, Dave Coplin, and Philip Ross, chief executive of Unwork, opened the event on Day 1 by discussing the reasons “why work isn’t working”, touching on the twin themes of productivity and commercial real estate.

Their chief conclusions were that productivity can no longer be defined as an end-result, but a process; social media is transforming how we communicate, with technology enabling buildings to identify where collaboration is actually happening; leading is about enabling – not controlling; increased transparency equals increased agility; flexible and remote working requires ‘mindfulness’; Cloud computing adds new players to ‘consumption economics’; and ‘Jellybean’ colour-coding can help map the realities of how productivity is achieved, and shape commercial building design.

Author and Sociometrics Solutions founder Ben Waber, an MIT scientist, then explained how we generate data through social media, and how metrics derived from these reveal our engagement and productivity levels. He shared case studies of global banks and Yahoo! to prove that real interactivity – hence, productivity – often happens during lunchbreaks or meetings in corridors, revealing the need for meaningful social connections across physical and virtual workspaces, that include the crucial face-to-face element (note to bosses: send more staff on lunchbreaks!).

Next, Philip Vanhoutte of Plantronics talked about the ‘Trouble with technology’ and the ‘Trouble with people’. Echoing earlier gripes about broadband and email crashes, email/information overload and the issue of human ‘partial attention disorder’, he prophesied that email will be dead in 10 years, and urged using a single central communication network to resolve connectivity and sound/tone-of-voice ergonomics to analyse and improve meeting engagement levels.

Simon Ward of Cushman & Wakefield spoke on the lessons from the technology, media and telecomms (TMT) sector that show buildings’ primary purpose is to serve interaction – real estate spaces are not as important as the people and clusters of knowledge that use them; therefore, buildings should provide an attractive, flexible, workspace ‘home’ that conveys an organisation’s brand and values, in much the same way the body’s central nervous system connects arteries. He also spoke of the ‘rise of the introvert’ and the need to design buildings to facilitate their contributions. Ward concluded that if people love what they do, and have choices about where and how they do it, productivity will increase – which is also the key to attracting Generations Y and Z, who want what they want when they want it and where/how they want it.

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