Charlie Grantham reports on the buzz at last week’s WORKTECH 15 West Coast.
What a great conference. Nearly 200 workplace professionals gathered to exchange ideas and push the boundaries of understanding. So, what did we hear? Aside from the excellent presentations, the typical hall chatter and quiet corner conversations revealed the essence. Here are five things that stood out:
1. It’s time to join the culture club (not that one)
Or, as one attendee put it, culture is the “new green”. Although we have known it for a while, it was quite clear from the conversations at WORKTECH that a “one size fits all” facilities view of the workplace is gone. Several presentations came at this from different directions, but the bottom line is that workplaces need to account for a cultural match between people and place. And culture as a concept is rapidly moving from an esoteric academic idea to measurable preferences, attitudes, and ultimately usage of various areas, artifacts, and tools. The “Internet of things” will connect all of this. Psychological needs, self-quantification, and yes, even wellness, is what will drive workplace design in the future.
2. Ascendancy of amenities
At first, it surprised me that the provision of “amenities” was front and center at the conference. On the other hand, it really is linked with the culture idea. Everybody wants a lunchroom on his or her floor. Everyone wants healthy, nutritious food in the cafeteria. So instead of this just being an after-thought that saddles the facilities manager, now provisioning (that’s a fancy way of saying service) is a key part of workplace strategy. And it has moved from the Google and Facebook “food everywhere, all the time” approach to something much more top of mind for designers. Going forward this may be the tip of the wellness and wholeness movement. Work and the rest of your life are becoming one, and amenities are a key component.
This is just another way of recognizing that effective workplace design is not an isolated activity: it needs to occur with actual users, or workers, participating in the entire front-to-back process.
3. Co-everything (is it just another fad?)
This one is a little harder to tease out. You had to listen very carefully at the words that were being bandied about. Co-working, co-laboration, co-this and co-that kept popping up probably without people being aware they were using those concepts. At a deeper level, it seems that this is just another way of recognizing that effective workplace design is not an isolated activity: it needs to occur with actual users, or workers, participating in the entire front-to-back process. It will be interesting to see if this sticks or just becomes another set of buzzwords du jour.
By my count “millennials” were mentioned more times than “activity based work”. That’s an interesting observation in itself. Everyone is abuzz about the millennials invading the boomer workplace. Oh my, what have we wrought? If you were standing in the back of the room and paying attention you could hear all kinds of statistics about numbers, attitudes, and pure speculation dressed up in anecdotal snippets. Here’s the point. Don’t take this conventional wisdom, as it were, as fact. The impact of millennials upon the workplace will be significant, just as any new cohort entering the work world is. However, there is some evidence to indicate something new is afoot. It may just be that those who have exited the full time, careerist work style may have more in common with the youngest part of the workforce. The implication drawn from these speakers and this audience that you’ve got to take careful look at your assumptions before you get out the design pencil.
5. OK, so what’s a workplace strategist to do?
First off, recognize that what worked in the past is probably not going to work well in the future. Second, everyone is going to have to make an effort to develop new competencies and ways of working that mirror whatever everyone else is doing. Rex Miller of mindSHIFT summed it up best when he said that, in the future, in order to stay relevant, you will need to become “one part data and coder, one part HR, one part wellness, one part logistics, and one part CRE.”
So there you have it. A wonderful, exciting eventful day in San Francisco. Novel ideas and thoughtful observations about workplaces of the future.