Key Takeaways from the Future Offices 2016 Summit

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Chair of the Month

Natalie Grasso Cockrell
Natalie Grasso Cockrell
Natalie is a Workplace Consultant at Herman Miller and the former Editor of Work Design Magazine. She’s currently based in Pittsburgh.

The summit was held on January 26 and 27 in New York City.

Image courtesy of Next Generation Offices.

The snow prevented us from attending the Future Offices 2016 Summit, held January 26 and 27 at Convene, but we reached out to a handful of friends and presenters who made it to get a feel for the key themes of the conference that brought together savvy corporate real estate leaders from across the industry. Here’s what they had to say.

When it comes to workplace, small companies and big ones have more in common than you think

“I didn’t expect for our 1,000 person tech company to have much in common with the needs of, say, a 100,000 person pharmaceutical company,” said Barry Lamm, director of the Center of Excellence at LivePerson. “But the event and presentations underscored that regardless of a company’s size or industry, people are people and workplaces are adapting to fit their needs and support connection and engagement. I’ve spoken with 20 person startups who are asking themselves the same questions: What does the future work space need to look like to best engage employees?”

Photo by Dan Herczak.
Photo by Dan Herczak.

People are still the most valuable asset in the workplace

“Enabled effectively, [people] are the engine of innovation responding to the exponential changes that are challenging every business in today’s economy,” said Sarah Slater, who works in workplace strategy for CBRE. “Thus, the office space must now be designed so that businesses and workers can thrive.”

“To stay relevant as the workforce evolves, the workplace needs to attract diverse individuals, ideas, and perspectives,” she added. “To do this effectively, we need to define and deliver the right experiences to attract not only the best talent, but also the right mix. Events, services, and amenities are what shape these experiences. With the increasing ubiquity and flexibility [of remote work], value-adding experiences are in high demand. We need to ensure the workplace is the preferred and most productive place for your employees to create, collaborate, and connect, regardless of their life or career stage.”

Photo by Dan Herczak.
Photo by Dan Herczak.

Providing a “kit of parts” for employees may be the key to easing them into unassigned space

John Vivadelli, the founder and CEO of AgilQuest, was especially impressed by a presentation given by Ann Bamesberger, the head of workplace effectiveness at Genentech.

“Ann built a beautiful new workplace ‘experiment’ at Genetech,” said John. “They took out private offices and created a mix of space types out of a ‘kit of parts’ to allow choices and changes to the workplace design.”

A few of the moves that led to success at Genentech included:

  • Removing the walls to spark interaction
  • Building a community center, both in space and in technology. “This is a key belief of mine,” said John. “Space should be thought of as a community center where people with like-minded interests can come together.
  • Shifting the sense of employee ownership from “my place” to “our place”.
  • Emphasizing ergonomic solutions for chairs and desks
  • Making sure employees understood that the purpose of the redesign was not about cost savings, but rather about attracting top talent

The audience was small (again: snow), but strong

“This size of this conference was ideal,” said Albert De Plazaola, a global strategy leader for Unispace. “The smaller audience enabled us to develop a rapport and meaningful connections with other attendees. It was like being in a large college course where everyone ultimately has to work together.”

“The cocktail hour was in a very cool space, good networking,” he added. “In many larger conferences you enter a huge room filled with products and people you don’t know. While I consider myself an extrovert, my first reaction to that scene is, I gotta get the hell out of here. The size and tone of this conference encouraged more informal camaraderie, which was nice.”

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