WorkTech 2018 in New York City focused on gaining a better understanding of people at work, and learning how to best enable them. The conference featured a range of speakers from real estate, technology, people analytics, and design.
Technology that enables and engages workers was a key focus. Collin Davis of Amazon’s Alexa for Business talked about a future of ‘voice enabled’ workplaces. Imagine skipping the irritating process of starting a virtual meeting with a simple, "Alexa, start my meeting". Furthermore, consider never dealing with bad sound quality again. Kiley Henner of Biamp demonstrated how employing tech that separates ‘bad audio’ from ‘good audio’ can enable clear, high quality conferencing. Picture the collaboration that could happen when your colleague isn’t freezing, cutting out, or getting drowned out in a crowded room.
Collaboration is a top priority for many organizations. Over 50% of knowledge work relies on teamwork, said Robin Seiler of Microsoft. While employees were once encouraged to promote their own accomplishments in order to advance, employees are now evaluated on how they contribute to the success of others, as well as their ability to learn from others. New products are on the market to facilitate that collaboration, interactive touch-screens and enhanced screen sharing capabilities. Robin discussed how these emerging technologies can, as she put it, ‘fade to the background’ and propel collaboration and connection to the forefront in a seamless way.
While technology may dominate conversations about the future of work, several speakers also kept the discussion human and people-centered. Jess Kimball Leslie of OlgivyRED Consulting served as the energetic and dynamic opening speaker. Leslie encouraged attendees to rethink the value of humans in a world of technological disruption. The new definition of human intelligence? Anything a computer can’t do. She predicted a surge in the competitive advantage of empathy and other people-centered skills. "I should be able to go to Harvard and get a PhD in empathy" she declared. We like the sound of that!
An understanding of the human experience will also be the key to successful real estate practices going forward. Chris Kelly spoke about the "Real Estate’s Flexible Future". He shared his perspective as the founder of Convene, which has developed a reputation for providing stellar service to companies via flexible workspaces and enterprise workplace services. Kelly reiterated the power of empathizing with customers and occupants, and delivering services that go above and beyond their needs. “In the future, landlords become brands, tenants become members, and workplace becomes a service,” he says.
On day two, the future of real estate was revisited from a practical perspective. PLASTARC founder and executive director Melissa Marsh was joined by Chris Leong, partner at Leong Leong Architects, Savills Studley Vice Chairman Jeff Peck, and Sean Roland, director of experience & operations at Artsy. They had a fascinating discussion about "startups growing up". The talk referenced [The Elephant and The Flea](https://www.amazon.com/Elephant-Flea-Charles-Handy/dp/1591391288) by Charles Handy, who predicted that future companies will either be super big (think Google/Amazon) or super small (think freelance/gig economy). Marsh outlined key factors driving big and small companies to move their HQs across the East River to places outside Manhattan. In addition to lower costs,they can also find more space, freedom to design new accommodations, and the ability to interface with the public through ground floor access.
We saw a parallel between this conversation and a panel from WeWork, an example of a startup that has not just ‘grown up’ but exploded over the past few years. The panel was led by Arik Benzino, CWeO (Managing Director), U.S. & Canada East and Rui Barros, General Manager/Head of Operations. They spoke about their first ground-up development, Dock 72, which was designed to provide what start-ups are looking for in their new spaces. A key part of that experience is control over the hospitality experience.
Another interesting thread we noticed was the use of design to appeal to current and future talent. We saw a presentation by long-time colleague and friend Amanda Kross, JLL senior VP, on "Design Thinking at Work". She outlined how companies can use tools like the SAP Innovation Readiness Assessment to answer the question, “How innovative is your organization?” She also demonstrated how the ROI of design thinking can be quantified through The Design Value Index , showing that companies that integrate design thinking into corporate strategy can outpace industry peers by as much as 228%.
Gregg Carman of Humanyze, along with Christopher Blackadder and Steffan Williams of Scott Brownrigg, spoke about using metrics in workplace design. Humanyze focuses on people analytics, while Scott Brownrigg specializes in evidence-based workplace design. They promoted the idea that using data to cater to employees’ individual needs results in higher engagement and better company performance. They outlined ways their companies are using people analytics, collecting data about employees through building sensors, observational studies, and surveys.
Health and well-being was another hot topic. The "Lead WELL Workbook: Healthy People, Places and Performance" session was led by T. Patrick Donnelly, Client Leader at BHDP Architecture, and Randy Whinnery, VP of Design at Fidelity Investments. They said that creating a successful health and wellness initiative starts with recognizing that human beings have an integrated experience of life, and that work plays a huge part. Why is this so important? Work is a major factor in chronic disease. The big question for the session was, “How can workplace be restorative?” They pointed out that small wins achieved through “healthy nudges” can lead to big wins. They suggested reading the upcoming book, The Healthy Workplace Nudge: How Healthy People,Culture, and Buildings Lead to High Performance.
Our experience at Worktech NYC reinforced our belief that the workplace is becoming more human. People analytics, empathetic building services, technology and innovation can help us to keep moving in that direction.
We are looking forward to presenting at Worktech Paris about designing multi-sensory workspaces for experience and engagement!
By Sarah Wilen
Sociospatial Analyst, PLASTARC
Design Analyst, PLASTARC