Dutch courage: Amsterdam event faces up to the future
The Netherlands has a proud record of piloting new ways of working. How will it fare after the pandemic? The WORKTECH Amsterdam 2022 conference suggested a bright and diverse future
Amsterdam was at the epicentre of new ways of working before the great pandemic struck. So, two years on from the first wave of the coronavirus crisis, what is this European hothouse of workplace design and innovation sensing now about the future of work?
WORKTECH Amsterdam 22, hosted at Office Operators-Infinity on 21 April 2022, not only marked a first face-to-face return to the Netherlands for the WORKTECH conference series since the pandemic but also provided a vibrant platform to explore how things might shape up in the aftermath.
Mood of the moment
Co-chaired by Peter Ankerstjerne of Planon and Luc Kamperman of Veldhoen+ Company, the event featured a broad array of speaker presentations and panels designed to capture the mood of the moment. So what did we learn from an action-packed day of data, speculation and debate?
The future workplace will be creative: Kitty de Groot, designer and journalist, demonstrated how to create spaces that support each phase of the innovation process – from discovery and ideation to testing and launch – using low-tech materials and changes of perspectives. A sense of play and humour pervaded de Groot’s approach in contrast to a reliance on algorithms evident elsewhere in the conference.
The future workplace will be connected: Sophie Schuller, a behavioural scientist at Kings College London, and Gerda Stelpstra of Cushman & Wakefield in the Netherlands explained how use of organisational network analysis (ONA) might produce a better post-pandemic office with greater connections between people. Their model uses a range of meta-data from email, calendars, chat and Teams to make design predictions that will optimise network strength; and their hypothesis, which will be tested in a living lab set up in Utrecht, is that ONA can improve collaboration by up to 20 per cent.
‘A sense of play and humour pervaded de Groot’s approach in contrast to a reliance on algorithms…’
The future workplace will be performative: Dr Ella Hafermalz, an associate professor of digital innovation at Vrije University Amsterdam, referenced the eminent sociologist Erving Hoffman in an engaging presentation based on the metaphor of the theatrical performance in conducting remote client-facing work. Based on a case study of tele-nurses in Australia, her study suggested that client-facing workers need a ‘front stage’ to perform, a ‘back stage’ to retreat and rehearse, and a ‘back channel’ so the team can talk secretly without the client listening in during the performance.
The future workplace will be augmented: Harry Morphakis of Accenture took us on a journey from the Internet of People (Web 1.0) through the Internet of Things (Web 2.0) to the Internet of Place (Web 3.0) where augmented reality and the metaverse will rethink the rules. His key predictions: virtual reality headsets will become part of people’s everyday work life; gaming will transform learning; and digital twin offices will welcome remote workers.
The future workplace will be enticing: Jonathan Wisler, CEO of EDGE Next, the technology platform of the innovative EDGE development company, argued that enticing people back to the office is a better option than mandating a return. Wisler’s focus was on ‘wellness you can see’ – giving visual feedback on such things as levels of occupancy and air quality as part of a new application ecosystem within the environment.
On the issue of enticing people back to the office, however, there is evidently much work to do. WORKTECH Amsterdam’s final speaker, Stuart Finnie of workplace design firm Unispace, presented the results of a large-scale survey of 3,000 office workers and 2,750 employers in nine European countries – this revealed that nearly two-third of all workers (64 per cent) are ‘reluctant returners’. The Netherlands is the least reluctant to return (56 per cent of workers don’t want to go back); workers in Ireland are the most reluctant (83 per cent).
The reasons for this reluctance to return include fears and uneasiness about managing care arrangements, commuting times, loss of productivity and inability to focus. Unispace advocates designing a mix of focus, social and collaboration zones in the office, and predicts that property footprints will contract by 25 per cent with a greater corresponding focus on quality and experience.
The overriding impression of WORKTECH Amsterdam 22 was that the breadth and diversity of ideas, perspectives and technologies would enable companies to pick and choose those elements that will work best for them in the hybrid future. There was certainly no shortage of solutions for people to pilot back in their organizations. As Dr Ella Hafermalz remarked: ‘In 2016, remote workers were the weirdos who were slacking off – now we’re all the weirdos.’