New York narrative: the next industrial revolution really is here

Tough and sceptical, the latest edition of WORKTECH New York put the hottest new ideas to about data-driven workspace, amenity-led venues, voice technology, contingent workers and more to the test

Ever since the WORKTECH conference series landed in the Big Apple nearly a decade ago, sceptical and sophisticated New Yorkers have been providing a real-estate reality check for some of the boldest and brightest new ideas in workplace. The 2018 edition of WORKTECH New York, held at Convene on 17 May with a masterclass at WeWork the following day, was no exception to this rule. Here are six key ideas about the future of work that stood up to scrutiny.

Workforce shift is really radical

Believe the hype. Jess Kimball Leslie, Global Chief Futurist at Ogilvy Consulting, kicked off the conference by declaring that a new industrial revolution was at hand, powered by freelances and contingent workers.  She quoted the Wall Street Journal: ‘Never before have companies tried so hard to employ so few people.’ As the composition of the global workforce changes rapidly, empathy and experience will come to fore, with humans ‘adding only what humans can’. Generally, as the boundaries between art and commerce blur, artists and entrepreneurs will begin to switch roles.

Don’t forget workspace layout

Amid the data revolution, it is all too easy to go digital and forget the vital importance of workspace. Arjun Kaiker, Co-Head of Workplace Analytics and Insights at Zaha Hadid Architects, reminded the conference that the purpose of the office space is to foster collaboration, build transparency and create experiences in the workplace. Data analytics can optimise workspace layouts and Zaha Hadid Architects is using these tools to help companies pinpoint areas with the most visibility and reachability to enhance team collaboration.

Work and life, balanced

One of the luxuries of hotels is the abundance of amenities to satisfy guest’s needs during their stay – restaurants, gyms, lounges, bars, spas, outdoor space, valet parking and more.  That mix will come to workplace near you soon. Chris Kelly, Co-Founder & Chief Innovation Officer at Convene, explained that ‘we are moving away from a traditional work-life balance and moving towards work and life, balanced’. Our understanding of the traditional office is changing as new open space concepts are built for mobile and collaborative people, and brands like Convene and WeWork build spaces to enhance experience by providing amenities for guests that they have never seen before in the workplace. In particular, food and hospitality, an undervalued amenity in the workplace, is set for more prominence.

Are you a dolphin or an otter?

Office user insight can be powerful thing. Christopher Blackadder and Steffan Williams of architects Scott Brownrigg shared their approach to evidence-led workplace by discussing a research methodology for segmenting the workforce into different types depending on levels of mobility and collaboration. A simple online questionnaire (combined with observations and interviews) generates the typologies, which are based on figures from the natural world. Are you a Dynamic Dolphin, Pivotal Penguin or Enterprising Otter? This is a fun approach that also provides a serious evidence base for designing workspace. Are we on the cup of a rise in new co-design and participatory design techniques to get under the skin of what really goes in the workplace?

Voice strike the right chord

Voice-driven conversations have always been the most natural way for us to communicate.  Collin Davis, Head of Alexa for Business at Amazon Web Services, shared some key factors on how voice can impact and enhance our workplace experience. With the enhancements in technology we are able to use voice smart assistants in the workplace to help engage employees and increase productivity. Having a smart assistant such as Alexa in the workplace, consumers are able to multitask more efficiently by simply voicing to add a meeting to a calendar or to add a reminder to call someone at a later time.

Golden circle of innovation

As digital transformation impacts our work environment and increases our expectations, how can technology support company growth and innovation? Glenn Mathis of Konica Minolta told his WORKTECH New York masterclass audience that you should not start with WHAT you do and HOW you do it when it comes to implementing new technology. He showed a golden circle with WHY at the core: he advocated working inside out and understanding why you might do something and growing your vision from there. When you focus on the WHAT, you end up throwing ideas at a wall and hoping one sticks. You need to focus on the WHY in order to have stability around your vision.

Special thanks to Vallie Herndon of Aramark for gathering insights for this report. Read another view of WORKTECH New York 2018 here.
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