Moving up the value chain: how tech is now all about people

From creating a vertical village to embedding intentional technology into the building, the WORKTECH SmartBuildings22 London conference suggests where we can get the most value from smart technology

‘It’s about smart, but not smart as we know it’ – this was the key message of WORKTECH’s SmartBuildings22 conference. Hosted in London’s iconic new smart building 22 Bishopsgate on 9 March 2022, more than 20 expert speakers took the stage to forecast how the latest digital innovations will shape the world of work.

The event took place in the innovation heart of 22 Bishopsgate, The Exchange, and foregrounded themes one would not necessarily expect at a smart building conference – experience and community. It quickly became clear that smart technology is now a key facilitator to unlock the power of people.

From place to people

Philip Ross, founder and CEO of UnWork and Cordless Consultants, took to the stage first to highlight some of the emerging technologies shaping the hybrid workplace today. From workplace apps that can pre-plan your working month, and suggest who you should collaborate with, to gamifying the workplace experience, Ross focused on technologies that truly enhance the workplace experience.

The technologies were presented alongside a value proposition chain which started with physical and digital infrastructure at the bottom and reached people and experience at the top. Ross suggested that the higher up you invest in the chain, the greater the value is to the performance of the organisation.

Returning to humanity

There are few people with greater insight into the making of London’s next-generation office communities than Sir Stuart Lipton of developer Lipton Rogers and Despina Katsikakis of Cushman and Wakefield. Ross was joined in conversation by both real estate titans to explore and understand the vision for creating 22 Bishopsgate.

Despina Katsikakis explained: ‘The more ubiquitously we use technology, the more we crave humanity’. So while 22 Bishopsgate has been fitted out with the latest and most innovative smart technology, social cohesion and experience remains the main motivator guiding the development of the building.

‘The more ubiquitously we use technology, the more we crave humanity…’

Community is an important facet of the creation of 22 Bishopsgate. The building contains almost 100, 000 sq ft of shared amenity space to promote the social connectivity between occupiers within a ‘vertical village’. In trying to insert more fun into the office, Sir Stuart Lipton quipped that ‘the main function of the office was to meet, date and mate.’

Sir Stuart Lipton recognises that the real estate industry needs to change to meet new demands and create spaces where people can thrive. He said: ‘In property, the status quo is the future. We have to break the mould to make people feel something when they enter the building’.

Variety is the spice of life

When designing a building such as 22 Bishopsgate – which is over 1.2 million sq ft in size – head of leasing James Goldsmith of AXA told the conference that the important question is not ‘what?’ but ‘why?’. Every design decision needs to be considered and intentional in order to create spaces that are desired and helpful to occupants.

Jack Pringle, founder of Studio Pringle and the lead design consultant on the use of occupier space at 22 Bishopsgate, said that the variety of spaces make the project  unique because it accommodates new ways of working and it democratises the tenant experience so all building users can have access to the amenities despite the size of the company they belong to.

As part of this variety, Frankie Pringle – innovation director of Studio Pringle – said there was also a  commitment to addressing neurodiversity on the project. Designing for neurodiversity means providing variety and making the design clear, she explained.

Unified approach to technology

If sustainability, wellbeing and hybrid are the challenges we need to address, then how can smart tools offer a solution? This was the starter-for-ten question from Steve Taylor of Cordless Consultants to a panel including Daniel Drogman of Smart Spaces, Jim Burton of HID Global, Louise Morgan of GSK, and Emily Wright of Estates Gazette.

Drogman suggested that real estate and technology need a more joined-up approach from the outset of a project to reduce the limitations of technology capability. This relationship becomes even more important when facing the potential challenges of hybrid working. Taylor said: ‘The industry needs to come together and share ideas. Now is the time to get hybrid working right and technology is a big part of that’.

This sentiment was supported by Sam Wood of Cisco, who said that creating ‘smart buildings is the ultimate team sport, no one can do it all’.

What the occupiers say

Understanding how space is used and the ability to embed a culture of flexibility into the organisation are key considerations for large occupiers of 22 Bishopsgate. Krupa Solanki of UnWork was joined in conversation with Simon Robinson of Beazley, Matthew O’Halloran of Smart Spaces, and Andy Bugg of Hiscox. The panel discussed the role in technology is facilitating some of their challenges in the workplace.

‘Data exchange requires trust that your employer is using your data responsibly…’

Bugg acknowledges that ‘space hasn’t become less important but the things people expect to do in them has changed’. With that, it is more important to understand how space is used by employees. Workplace apps allow employees to pre-plan their weeks and choose when they will come into the office based on their scheduled meetings or whether their colleagues are in. Apps can also feed data to business leaders who can then determine when and how space in the office is being used.

On the thorny issue of data, Andy Bugg of Hiscox suggested that employees need to be in control of the data they are offering up. Organisations need to communicate clearly why data is being collected. Beazley’s Robinson agreed that data exchange is all about trust – do you trust your employer to use your data responsibly?

On the evidence of WORKTECH’s SmartBuildings22 conference, smart technology is clearly no longer a facilities-centric issue – it has reached the people-centric summit of the value chain.

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