Out of the mist: what we learnt from London

The view of the future from the 39th floor of Canary Wharf Tower told delegates at the WORKTECH London 2016 conference that workplace transformation is increasingly the only option

The venue for the 2016 London WORKTECH conference could not have been more appropriate, or more spectacular – the 39th floor of One Canada Square. (For those not in the know – that’s the tall building with the pyramid on top, bang in the middle of Canary Wharf.)

The day started with the 39th floor shrouded in mist, but this soon dispersed to reveal a stunning panorama of the Thames and the City of London, a truly memorable view of this iconic skyline. As I gazed out the window in walked our first speaker, none other than Richard Rogers, the architect behind some of the best-known buildings below, including the Lloyds Building, the Millennium Dome and the Leadenhall ‘Cheesegrater’.


The WORKTECH organisers managed to pack 30 speakers into a day and half, providing a prefect forum to discuss the latest thinking on the future of work and the workplace.
Here are my top six takeaways:

1. Back office days over

Real estate and facilities management used to be mundane back-office disciplines, relegated (often literally) to the basement. These days are well and truly over. The workplace is now widely recognised as a key strategic lever and is being discussed at the most senior levels in companies including the boardroom. In many cases it’s a matter of survival: organisations have no option but to transform if they want to attract the best talent. And the workplace plays a pivotal role in helping to ensure that an increasingly diverse quad-generation workforce is motivated and empowered to deliver to the best of their ability.

2. The journey is cross-functional

Many speakers (myself included) highlighted the fact that workplace transformation can only be effective when considered under the broader umbrella of a workforce. This journey is necessarily cross functional and cannot be executed by any one discipline in isolation. Three core actors were identified by multiple speakers – Facilities, IT and HR – reflecting the fact that this transition needs to consider the physical assets, the technology and the workforce.

3. Working away from the office

Some industries, such as consulting, have always encouraged employees to work away from the office (albeit away from the firm’s own office and into that of the client). Today a much broader spectrum of employers also recognise the reality that presenteeism (if there is such a word) does not equate to productivity. This is especially true for knowledge workers, and many employers (such as Cisco) no longer mandate that their employees come into the office. In fact, we are at liberty to select whatever environment we believe will make us most productive – whether this happens to be within and outside the office is incidental.

4. Workplace as destination

Under this new regime the office no longer has a ‘captive audience’, it must (literally) attract the employees. If one is going to invest the extra time and effort and money to come into the office – it had better be worth it. As one presenter (Erol Aziz from KPMG) succinctly put it – the challenge is to turn the office into a ‘destination’ – somewhere that people want to go. A very interesting parallel from the retail sector was flagged up during a panel session, with the emergence of shopping centres that are specifically being promoted as ‘destinations’ in an effort to attract online shoppers to their physical stores. An insightful Tom Savigar from The Future Laboratory took the thinking one step further, anticipating that the role of facilities management will ultimately morph into hospitality management.

5. Continuous evolution needed

One the most poignant exchanges of the whole conference came during the Q&A with Richard Rogers when a delegate stood up and introduced himself as the current facilities manager for Rogers’ Lloyds Building. This building was considered state of the art when opened in 1986, and has recently been designated Grade 1, meaning that the interior (as well as the exterior) are protected. I must say this struck me as slightly ironic given that much of the interior is sited on the exterior). The ensuing dialogue related to the fact that Lloyds and the local planning authority recognise that this building has to be upgraded if it is to remain fit for purpose as a 21st century workplace. This exchange highlighted the fact that all workplaces – even the best of the best – need to continuously evolve. Today’s state of the art buildings, such as The Edge, which was extensively reviewed at the London event, should fare better 30 years from now, as one of the principal design objectives has been to deliver spaces that are future-proof.

6. Poetry of the soul

And finally, the biggest surprise? The resident poet! Matt Harvey’s short and pithy interludes lifted the spirits of the whole audience – and on reflection served as a timely reminder that the ultimate raison d’etre for all the innovations to the buildings and the technologies is to enable the company’s most important asset – its people – to excel.

Exclusive Academy video interviews with London WORKTECH conference 2016 speakers:

Michael Gresty, Rifiniti
George Muir, IKEA
Mary Anne de Lares Norris, Oblong Technologies
Tom Savigar, The Future Laboratory
Martin Laws, Deloitte, and David Sie, The Edge

John McConnell is Senior Manager, Digital Business Transformation, at Cisco
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