By Marielle Bertrac - 25th April, 2019
After successful events in multiple cities around the world, WORKTECH hosted its first conference in India. A professional community from real estate, facilities, technology, executive management, architecture, and design came together to discuss the innovations shaping work and workplace. We at PLASTARC admit to being WORKTECH groupies! We’ve been proud to attend and contribute to WORKTECH events near and far, from NYC and San Francisco to Toronto and Paris. Traveling to speak at the first WORKTECH India was a no-brainer!
The workplace landscape in Bengaluru, while rich in opportunity, also presents unique challenges. Throughout India, multinationals have a reputation for leveraging the region’s human capital without a commensurate investment in workplaces that enable wellness, sustainability, or even personal safety. While new developments do sometimes invest in necessary infrastructure, they are not required to extend that infrastructure to the surrounding community. A report from Gensler explains this disconnect: "The current form of the Indian workplace, specifically in its growing service sector, is largely the result of a Western typology that was introduced into India in the 1990s with little regard for the local context. While this form has evolved over time, its evolution has been driven primarily by business and real estate shifts and less by demands or desires specific to the Indian cultural context."
It was against this backdrop that wide range of stakeholders heard from leaders and luminaries like Ulrich Blum, Associate, Zaha Hadid Architects; Philip Ross, Futurologist, CEO of Cordless Group and UnGroup, and founder of WORKTECH; and Praveen Vasudeva, Director of Workplace Resources at CISCO. Topics included the future of data-led design, Internet-of-Things and AI, workplace design as a strategic choice, and global tech trends.
The Founder and Executive Director of PLASTARC, Melissa Marsh, spoke about the intersection of technology and space. She shared ways to use data to transform workplaces into environments that support an optimal experience, mentioning that when it comes to designing workspaces, leveraging data is key to understanding occupants. "A lot of our work is integrating not just the people but also the data that might be part of HR, IT, Real Estate, and Facilities Management. Together they make the workplace experience, and if we are not putting those pieces together, we are not doing the work that we could be doing."
Marsh also addressed the availability of data is changing what’s possible. "One of the first things we do at PLASTARC is leverage the data that buildings already have. Even if you’re in a not-so-smart building, you generally have some information or data. Right now we are seeing a unique confluence of people, consumer culture, and what we might have previously thought of as the Internet of Things."
Algorithms are key to the high-performance workplace, according to Ulrich Blum. They can enable designers to solve problems encountered in the environment, such as "collaboration, connected visibility, openness, flexibility and adaptation, variety, diversity, decision-making, and awareness." He also professed that technology is a learning system to construct buildings that can feel their use, and react to their users, improving occupant well-being.
The pace of growth of the Indian economy—outpacing even that of China—has created new opportunities for transformation, according to Philip Ross: "The workspace market in the country is growing exponentially, and India as a country is maturing into one of the powerhouses. With every possible global brand trying to carve a niche in India, we are excited about empowering international brands with the diverse culture and practices and help them implement that here. We would like to take best practices from the world into India and from India to the world. With digitization and adoption of emerging technologies, India has vast potential to explore and ride on the future of work and technology."
While presenters expressed a lot of optimism, not everyone was convinced. Some members of the audience wondered whether the emphasis on technology is going too far. Technology has transformed the workplace in India; multinationals set up IT business parks across the country, and these multinationals continue to set the pace for workplace technology. While there is little dispute of the need for improved technology, Indian cities still need investment in basic infrastructure. On the plus side, Indian workplaces are not bound by the mistakes of the past, as James Keane of Steelcase pointed out in a recent interview with the India Times: "India adopted a particular way of working in developed markets in the 1980s, and now India’s skipping 25 years of bad global workplace design ideas and new ideas are coming from here."
Whatever the future holds, the event confirmed that the intersection of people, place, and technology remains a potent space for innovation. WORKTECH will continue to be an important forum for people interested in work and workplace, and PLASTARC is glad to have the opportunity to help push that conversation forward.