Five learnings from WORKTECH that you should activate in 2023

Sophie Grant, Principal Strategy Consultant Workplace strategy

Before the holidays, we visited the 2022 WORKTECH conference hosted by Convene at 22 Bishopsgate London. Here’s what Principal Strategy Consultant Sophie Grant and Strategy Consultant Sameeha Joshi took away from the day.

The office is not dead, but reborn

A key theme throughout the conference was the confidence that the office is still very much alive – and is entering a new and exciting era. It is clear that the future office will no longer be a linear space with individual ownership of desks. Instead, the purpose of the future office is changing and we need to be intentional about what that looks like depending on business needs. Many are transforming their spaces to align with the modern employee and creating open spaces that people can move through freely and work in the way that suits them.

On Wednesday 23 November 2022, veteran property developer Sir Stuart Lipton discussed this in his panel session about place-making:

The office is moving from factory farm to free range,” said Sir Lipton. “The office is not place-based, it’s made up of touchpoints so that you can truly work anywhere.

And rightly so. We’ve come to realise that sitting at your desk for eight hours a day doesn’t work for everyone, so naturally, a space that offers a range of flexible spaces to work from, with capabilities that suit different working styles, will ultimately benefit the business, its employees and their experience.

Your office has to be worth the commute

It’s nothing new that the number one reason that employees prefer to work from home is their commute into the office. Nearly 80% of respondents in a recent survey claimed that the lack of commute was their most liked part of working from home – taking the top spot from ‘saving money’ and ‘spending more time with loved ones’.

The UK has returned to work six times faster than our Stateside counterparts says Quentin Bosman of hybrid workplace management platform Envoy, and much of this could be linked to policy. He says that this eager return might not be so eager as we think. Philip Ross – Futurologist and CEO at Cordless Group and UnWork – said in his session that the office should ‘magnetise, not mandate’, and Quentin couldn’t agree more:

“Organisations are putting policies in place too late, and by this point they’re really behind the curve on what their employees need.”

So how do you create a space that’s worth the crowds, the traffic, the cost and the time? Bosman discussed the importance of the user journey, from the minute you start your commute to the minute you return home, and how assessing the way your employees currently view and use their workplace is critical to understanding why their working from home set-up could be more appealing or useful.

The office of the future is a 15-minute city

Cushman & Wakefield's Nicola Gillen thinks that the office is becoming experience-led, a destination that can offer you more than a place to sit and doesn’t treat its inhabitants as incidental. In a recent webinar, she talked about how people are hyper-focused on immersive experiences and employees are eager to see this in their everyday work environment. At the conference, others echoed Gillen’s view that the workplace of the future ‘won't look to compete on productivity, but instead focus on inspiration and experience’.

The 15-minute city concept also links itself to this idea of experience-led destinations. It’s about creating a city experience that is livable and accessible, with everything on your doorstep or within 15-minute’s reach. Tim Stonor, Managing Director of Space Syntax, believes that a city should be both serendipitous and predictable concurrently. This design concept also reflects Sir Lipton’s thoughts on ‘creating village greens, town squares, places that make people more comfortable’ and creating spaces that add value to all aspects of an individual’s life – professional or otherwise.

Cadbury’s Bournville Village or ‘Factory in a Garden’, built in 1879, is an excellent early example of the experience-led office and the 15-minute city concept. Created with employees’ needs at its heart, the Bournville Village was one of the first to bring industry and the natural environment together. A plethora of detached and semi-detached houses were built on the factory premises, each with their own garden, as well as schools, a railway station, leisure facilities and parks.

Social capital is business capital

Wellness is hugely important to the success of a workplace, but unhappiness levels have doubled over the last decade and is still on the rise. So, how can we tackle an epidemic of unhappiness at work and ensure our working environment is a positive and supportive place?

Mona Balasubramanian from Gallup used her session to explore the five contributing factors of a person’s wellbeing: career, social, financial, physical and community. In Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace Report, it was found that workplace stress was at an all-time high – and even in cases where employees were not stressed about work, they were still experiencing stress inside the workplace.

The report also found that engagement and wellbeing should not be considered mutually exclusive, or separate issues altogether, and that a shockingly low number of people across the world work in an engaged environment to begin with:

When employees are engaged and thriving, they experience significantly less stress, anger and health problems.

"Nevertheless, globally, only 9% of employees are in that thriving and engaged category — while the majority (57%) of the world’s employees are not engaged and not thriving."

We can see, then, how social capital and wellbeing have just as much an effect on a company as core business drivers like finances. In a session about the future workplace, McKinsey & Co workplace expert Phil Kirschner said, “we should think about social capital the same way we think about financial capital”.

What Kirschner means is that wellbeing at work has value, and investing in the person – not the employee – will ultimately benefit the bottom line. Kirschner highlighted that businesses need to move away from putting emphasis on profit and performance. He said that in reality “employee engagement should be a key indicator moving forward”, and that business leaders would be wise to invest more time and money into understanding exactly what that looks like to them, their business and their people.

Inclusion is essential to a sub-servant workspace

We can’t talk about the employee experience without talking about diversity and inclusion. Over the last few years, awareness around DE&I has rocketed, and businesses are seeing that their workplaces don’t (and haven’t done enough to) support the individual needs of their employees.

Figures show that diagnoses of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) have risen by 80% in the last five years, and even more shockingly, autism diagnoses have exploded over the last 25 years, rising on average 32.5% each year. And with roughly 1% of the UK population believed to be on the Autism spectrum, it makes sense to make our workspaces more supporting of neurodiversity.

But that’s not all. There’s a greater need for overall people-centric design, says Philip Ross:

“Many businesses forget diversity (in people and place) at the front door even though it’s always incorporated in an organisations mission statement”.

If we're going to be more inclusive and accessible then our employees should be more involved in the design process from the beginning; as Phil Kirschner said, “flexible problems don’t have fixed answers.” By working with your people continuously, you can test, learn, adapt and scale quicker. This way, you inform your decisions based on data – not speculation, bias or anecdotes.

The Workplace Strategy team

About the authors

What’s the perfect workplace for your business? How will it function? What will it look like? How will it achieve both inspiration and optimisation? Our strategy team grapples with these questions for clients every day.

Property and people are the two greatest costs–and biggest assets–of any organisation. Our strategy team optimises the full potential of both, by building a complete, accurate and insight-based picture of the workplace that is completely unique every time.

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