People

What will alternative work communities look like in 2030?

As WORKTECH Academy announces the date of its 2018 Innovation Day in London, we look back to the 2017 workshop event – and a deep dive into how alternative work communities might operate in the near future

There has been a general consensus around the shape and approach of office-based work communities for the past 50 years, but evidence is growing that current global shifts in work patterns and technologies are now calling into question everything we thought we knew about how communities form and function.

John Thackara: Innovation Day provocateur

According to international design writer and environmentalist John Thackara, organisations need to prepare for a future of alternative work communities featuring dispersed teams, remote networks, heightened ecological awareness and project-based work centred on people’s skills, not employment.

Thackara, author of How To Thrive In The Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow’s World Today, was the guest speaker and provocateur at WORKTECH Academy’s inaugural Innovation Day for Global Partners and Corporate Members, held on 13 November 2017 on the eve of the WORKTECH London conference.

As WORKTECH Academy announces the London date for its 2018 Innovation Day – Monday 26 November – we revisit the key messages of the 2017 workshop event.

Uprooting cultural identity

John Thackara explored the history of work communities, quoting the fears of 19th century French philosopher Elisée Reclus, who predicted that rapid modernisation and industrialisation would uproot cultural identity. Reclus described imagined and intentional communities, communities of practice and communities of interest. Place and change were the two elements crucial to all of these communities.

More than 100 years later, space, energy and resource-intensive businesses are making the modern workplace unsustainable and unstable, said Thackara.  Only one in four of the world’s working age adults enjoy secure work – the rest are ‘nomads, precarians, informals’.

Not that Thackara is a ‘doomer’. He told the Innovation Day participants that ‘I’m not about to fill a pickup truck with guns and peanut butter and head into the hills’. Instead he has spent much of his career investigating alternative communities and finding positives in the outliers who plan and work differently.

These include groups such as Unmonastery, who use digital technology to breathe new life into abandoned Italian medieval villages, and civil ecology activists depave.org who advocate digging up concrete to replace with soil.

Use existing spaces

Thackara advocated that ‘the future is about using existing spaces in new ways, not about building new infrastructures’ and argued that pockets of place-making change on the margins could have a big effect. As he explained, ‘When the system is far from equilibrium, small islands of coherence have the capacity to shift the entire system.’

His inspiring examples of alternative communities acted as a catalyst for Innovation Day participants to reimagine work for 2030, brainstorming in six teams in partnership with Masters students from the Service Design programme at the Royal College of Art.

Each team created a new service concept based around the themes of lifelong learning, the circular economy, flexible networks, off-the-grid communities, emotional intelligence and virtual villages. Videos were subsequently produced to describe each concept. View an example here.

A teaser video for Innovation Day 2017 can be found here.

If you want to join WORKTECH Academy as a Corporate Member and take part in our 2018 Innovation Day in London, please contact Rhiannon.ledger@worktechacademy.com