Copenhagen gets comfortable with uncertainty about future of work

As companies around the world struggle to make hybrid work, Danish firms appear to be relaxed about embracing change with a test-and-learn approach, according to our latest WORKTECH Copenhagen conference

Only one thing is certain about the future of work at this moment: change is coming. For many companies, this reality is both unwelcome and alarming. But those who attended the WORKTECH22 Copenhagen conference seemed to embrace uncertainty and appeared excited about the changes ahead.

The conference, held at the Danish Architecture Centre on 27 September 2022, welcomed more than 15 expert speakers to share their experiences and innovations on the future of work. While the Danish market appears to be facing the same struggles with the return to the office, hybrid working and collecting data as other global markets, there was evidence of a refreshing sense of optimism.

Here are a few key learnings from the event:

Creating an attractive workplace is not just about design:  In a scene-setting presentation at the start of the conference, Jeremy Myerson – Director of WORKTECH Academy and Professor Emeritus at the Royal College of Art – highlighted that we have reached a point of no return for hybrid working and acknowledged that the journey to achieve hybrid success is complex and many organisations have yet to find the right formula for new ways of working.

‘Creating an attractive workplace is not all about aesthetics and space redesign…’

But what most companies can agree on is that the office still plays a critical role in delivering hybrid strategies. Katherine Divett of Australia-based workplace consultancy firm Puzzle Partners highlighted a case study of a firm who had clearly communicated hybrid work strategies with its employees and earned the buy-in from the workforce for returning to the office. Employees were surveyed throughout the pandemic and the biggest factor for wanting to return to the office was ‘attractiveness of the office’ – despite the firm not making any physical changes to the workplace.

This suggests that creating an attractive workplace is not all about aesthetics and space redesign, but about creating a psychologically safe and socially attractive space that people want to go to.

Focus on mutual goals

The return to office debate should focus on mutual goals: The pandemic has afforded employees a lot of bargaining power with their employers. During the ‘Great Resignation’, employees were demanding better experiences, seamless technology and more flexibility. So much so, that Andreas Horwitz of EY cited research showing that 43 per cent of employees said they would leave their employer in the next 12 months if their needs were not met. Now, global economic uncertainty has started to tilt the balance of power in the other direction. Employers now have the leverage to start mandating people back into the office. T

However, Copenhagen is not buying into this debate between who has the most power – employee or employer?  Instead of focusing on who is more powerful, Finn Laustsen of flexible workplace provider Rebel Workspace said on a panel that we need to focus on working towards common values. If everyone is buying into the same narrative and working towards a common purpose, it is mutually beneficial for everyone involved. However, this approach requires complete trust at all levels.

Experiment with data

We need to keep experimenting with data: Like many other markets across the world, Danish companies are also struggling with how to best leverage the data. They must create meaningful change but the sheer volume of data readily available is causing a ‘paralysis of indecision’, according to Haltian’s Dr Ken Dooley.

But if companies use this data to test, experiment and learn then it can be a powerful tool to help navigate businesses through this period of uncertainty. Dooley suggested that companies can overcome decision paralysis by identifying emerging technology that enables a company’s workplace strategy. However, it is not enough to just implement the technology – organisations also have to establish new cultural norms in order for the technology to be successfully adapted.

‘We need to design choices, not solutions’ – Audun Opdal, 3XN

We need to design choices, not solutions: The final learning of the day came from keynote speaker Audun Opdal of Danish-based architecture studio 3XN. Through a series of case studies, Opdal explored how to reconnect people through spatial design in a post-pandemic workplace. The focus of 3XN’s projects was flexibility of design. Floorplates were connected in vertical buildings by large, open stairways which could be reconfigured at minimal cost.

Audun left the Copenhagen conference with a strong message: ‘We need to design choices, not solutions.’ When everyone is looking for the single silver-bullet solution to hybrid working, perhaps we should instead be creating choices for everyone to build their own individual ecosystem of work?

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