Has New York turned a corner in reviving its office life?

This WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing explores how the Big Apple is bouncing back from the pandemic, led by the public workers, and looks ahead to the WORKTECH New York 2021 conference

New Yorkers know all about the ups and downs of urban living, but even the most hardened denizens of the Big Apple must have found the struggle through the pandemic tough to take. And as commuter trains emptied and office towers resembled morgues, the city’s workplace real estate community were left fearing for the future.

Now everyone is breathing just a little easier. This autumn, the city reached a seeming milestone when New York Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the entire municipal workforce of 300,000 employees, the largest in the US, back to the workplace five days a week. The absence of any hybrid or remote options displeased many people, but the Mayor was sending a signal – New York had circumnavigated the pandemic and was back in business.

‘Return of the entire municipal workforce is a significant turning point…’

Just a few months on from BBC News declaring that ‘New York is not dead, but it is on life support’, this was a significant turning point. Now, even if its public authorities are running ahead of corporate employers in reviving the levels of office attendance that can kickstart the local urban economy, New York can claim that the fightback is underway.

Predictive conference themes

As the city prepares to welcome the return of the eleventh edition of the WORKTECH New York conference on 3 December 2021, after a year’s absence in 2020 due to Covid-19, it is worth recalling the key conference themes when WORKTECH was last in town.

Reviewing them now, more than 18 months into a global health crisis, there is an uncanny predictive quality to what was discussed. There was a panel on what makes cities great places to work and a call to make New York’s urban thoroughfares friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists; the idea of ‘tactical urbanism’ was advanced in order to create more small-scale, citizen-owned green public spaces. All of that took shape during the pandemic.

The contours of a more ‘sentient workplace’ were outlined, with edible gardens, maker spaces, bird boxes and dogs at work reimagining what an office should feel like. JLL convened a workshop and panel on ‘super-experience’, suggesting that New York’s traditional position behind the experience curve was about to change.

There were also sessions on the rise of the mixed-use innovation district and the growing corporate use of flexible office space. Plus a timely reminder that dominant design theories and models never last over time – they are always disrupted.

Putting these themes together, a picture emerges of New York in summer 2019 standing on the brink of big workplace changes – but the city simply couldn’t have imagined how fast and deep these would be, and how they would be enacted. The question now is whether WORKTECH New York 2021 can bring its own crystal ball to proceedings…

Expert sessions

What can we expect at this year’s event? Session highlights will include an expert panel on ‘The Intelligent and Experiential Workplace’ with speakers from JLL, McKinsey & Company, Deutsche Bank and IMPEC Group; a case study on One Manhattan West with Michael Przytula, Managing Director – Intelligent & Digital Workplaces, Accenture; and ‘Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation’ by Kevin Roose, award-winning technology columnist for The New York Times.

Read the full conference agenda here.

WORKTECH New York will take place on Friday 3 December at Convene, 1 Liberty Plaza, Manhattan. Buy your ticket here

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our in-person, virtual and hybrid platforms. This edition is posted 17 November 2021.
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