WORKTECH12: Melbourne Review

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Chair Of The Month

Such was the interest in the workplace of the future that extra chairs had to be brought in to cater to the sell-out crowd at WORKTECH12: Melbourne.

More than 200 people came together at the Telstra Experience Centre for WORKTECH’s first Australian conference. With attendees from all over the Asia-Pacific Region, there was a palpable buzz in Telstra’s impressive conference theatre.

On Generations

The fantastic Gerry Taylor of Orangebox started the day suggesting how we might realize the potential of the multi-generation workplace. Heading for a perfect storm of technology and consumerization, it’s clear that the importance of workplace design needs to accelerate even further – we can’t stop the train but we can miss it.

Who would have thought we would be saying this about Kodak and GM?

On Technology

I was very interested in Steelcase’s Jason Heredia’s ideas on the ever-changing boundaries of the office – types of collaboration, how we manage people across different cultures and locations, and the role of the office in socialization and trust.

Heredia highlighted that organizations need to consider how to support the contingent workforce (set to double in the next 5 years); that is, those that are part of the organization but not employees.

To help build socialization and trust between regionally diverse teams, Steelcase has implemented a virtual bench between its Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo offices. Team members in Tokyo can see, hear, and communicate with their colleagues in Kuala Lumpur via a wall-sized “virtual bench” — which really looked like an extension of the Tokyo desk space.

WORKTECH founder Philip Ross then took us into the clouds for a look at the thin workplace. Ross’s clear, future-focused thinking was highly entertaining as he took the room through how technology is creating “work on the pause.”

Our ability to control and analyze everything in real time is just around the corner. He cited examples like inductive power built into desks for cooking your lunch; the dumb keyboard that turns into a laptop with the addition of your phone; and instant server farms housed in shipping containers on trucks.

What we do with this information is still uncertain in many respects, but what is clear is that we need to let go of our current ideas of the workplace and prepare for the impact of intelligent buildings, urban informatics and the monetization of agility.

The boundaries between the organization and the city are increasingly blurring. Microsoft’s office at the airport in Schipol has saved 30% in real-estate costs, increased sales by 51%, and been the subject of 36,000 site tours.

On Space

How satisfied are employees in their new workplaces? A case study by Riccardo Rizzi of Isis highlighted significant productivity increases following the firm’s 5-star green fit-out in Melbourne, which showed how a sustainability philosophy can transform not just the space, but also a company. We had the opportunity to see Isis’s impressive facility on a tour the next day.

I had the chance to sit down with Riccardo and discuss his ideas on the current state and direction of the sustainability movement in this part of the world. He said:

“While Australia may have been a bit late to the party, we have well and truly caught up and can be considered best practice in our approach. The ripple effect of knowledge in relation to the efficiencies that can be gained through sustainable practices continues to spread further and further. The effects of the GFC and the trends in thinner, more dispersed workplaces will mean that the opportunities and demand to refurbish existing building stock will accelerate.”

Other case studies highlighted Macquarie Bank and ANZ, the largest single tenancy office building in Australia coming in at 85,000 square meters and home to 7,000 employees.

A highlight of the afternoon for me was the presentation by Luc Kamperman of Veldhoen and Associates, whose activity based work methods have been adopted by the likes of Macquarie Bank and the CBA.

Kamperman suggested that future potential of the workplace will dramatically change productivity and customer outcomes by becoming paper independent, optimizing collaboration, enhancing mobility, and utilizing new technology.  The information revolution will enable us to close the gap and introduce greater harmony between our private lives and working lives.

This distinction I think is vital, and represents a gap in itself. Many organizations are giving their employees choice and flexibility in how and where they work, but not so much over when they work and what they are working on.

The reality of the difficulty of change, and a disconnect on these issues, has meant that we are seeing an increasing number of workplaces that look amazing and provide endless options on where to sit, stand, or lie down to work but retain an industrial age feel to the other side of the equation.

I recently heard of a Brisbane-based government department that spent a considerable sum on a range of informal work and meeting areas.   Without the cultural change process adequately addressed, the employees simply couldn’t cope with this new way of operating, and after several weeks requested a policy and booking process be implemented for the new work zones.

It seems we have a way to go on trust, letting go and focusing on outcomes to fully realize the potential of our workspaces and our people.


WORKTECH Melbourne was a great success and the addition of a workplace tour the next day to look inside at the likes of ANZ, NAB, Telstra, Isis, the Hub and the Department of Treasury and Finance was an excellent addition.

I look forward to the next WORKTECH event and to its return to Melbourne in 2013.

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