Paris paradigm shift from convention to community

The French workplace is wrestling with changing models of work that appear alien to its traditional office culture. Speakers at WORKTECH Paris 18 highlighted the tensions and contradictions

Long lunches, heated meetings, and respected status are staples of most large French workplaces. So when 150 executives gathered in the ninth arrondissement at WORKTECH Paris to discuss new ways of working, digitally led workspace and community values, there was an inner battle brewing between the conventional French workplace and expectations for the future.

The venue for WORKTECH Paris 18, which was hosted at WeWork Lafeyette on 14 June, symbolised a change from traditional corporate workspace to a community-led work environment – a shift that was supported by WORKTECH’s speakers throughout the day.

A sense of community

James Grose and Susanne Mayer of architects BVN explored the theme of community in workplaces that are notoriously difficult to unite – skyscrapers and large campuses. Taking a three step approach to workplace design – rethink, recalibrate and regenerate – BVN was able to integrate a community culture into these spaces by intermixing different layers of social space, facilities and amenities, and workspace. Three case studies were presented: skyscrapers 1100 Americas Avenue in New York and Melbourne Tower in Australia, and large factory campus B:Hive, each highlighting the importance of integrating community into workplace.

Host speaker Audrey Barbier Litvak of WeWork joined with Marie Schneegans of Workwell to discuss fluid space and the need to connect in the workplace. They focused on apps as an integral tool to fuelling serendipitous interactions and forming cultures of community.

Changing models of work

Batoul Hassoun of OgilveyRED Consulting predicted the rise of the ‘slasher’. Bucking the traditional concept of one job/one career, Batoul argued that slashers will hold many jobs at a time. This model relies on continuous learning and adaptability.

‘Jobs are dead – long live work!’ – Bernard Stiegler, French philosopher

Based on new ways of working, Dr Marleen Huysman and Ella Hafermalz of Amsterdam’s KIN Centre for Digital Innovation proposed four space typologies of work; first, the ‘private sanctuary’, which is an environment for employees to escape the office floor and do focus work; second, ‘subterranean’ space, which is about going underground to connect with colleagues without the presence of the organisation or managers; third,‘online workspace’ which is about the use of social media to mentally escape from the office environment; and fourth, ‘the clubhouse’ – a social place to physically connect with peers with managers present.

Vive la résistance

Despite shifting ways of working and changing employment models, there appeared to be some hesitation and résistance from the French. A panel including George Yates of WeWork, Thomas Menassol of Tholes, Jérémie Papon of BNP Paribas Real Estate and Frédéricke Sauvageot of Orange, debated where and how France culturally fits into these trends.  As teams continue to disperse due to technological advance, middle managers are seeing less of their employees. A position once held as a symbol of status is not only is being stripped of an office, but also of its people. This concept conflicts with the French idealism that people meet, discuss and debate face-to-face o communicate effectively with each other.

Digital bind for people

Technological change may be driving people out of the office but it can also be used to bind people together in the workplace too. Paris is no stranger to the smart building. WORKTECH Paris 2016 was held in Schneider Electric’s smart building in La Defence, and in 2018 panellists Patrick Zielinski and Carole Ginfray spoke alongside Pascal Gilaber of Hamilton Apps to discuss the digital journey through a smart building for an employee. The panel discussed an ecosystem of expectation and demand, as the ‘buildings need to meet the demands of companies, who need to meet the expectations of talent’.

Philip Ross of Ungroup supported the digitally-enabled workforce with a harsh reality check of ‘it’s coming whether we like it or not’. Emerging digital platforms are fuelling consumption economics as we are able to book places on-the-go, find people on demand, and even access buildings through facial recognition.

The driving force for all this is, of course, data. Gregg Carman of Humanyze outlined the importance of making invisible systems and social networks in an office visible through data analytics. Understanding these networks can aid communication channels and efficiency.

Psychological and sensory design

WORKTECH Paris didn’t just dwell on tech. The conference also discussed an especially French precoccupation – the senses. Neuro-architecture – a term that is increasingly cropping up in workplace design – can be practiced to design spaces that reflect the work we are carrying out, according to Dr Eve Edelstein of Perkins + Will Architects. Edelstein suggested a move away from designing for different personalities such as introverts or extroverts, to focus instead on designing for different types of work using Virtual Reality as a gateway into understand how our brain reacts to space.

Melissa Marsh of Plastarc also took a more personal approach to using our senses. She described a multisensory design process in which our five senses are used in a holistic way to build the best environment for employees.

While Paris welcomed new trends and thought-leadership, WORKTECH Paris made it clear that ‘just because it’s trendy, doesn’t mean it is successful for us’. French workplaces are steadily adopting flexible working and digitally-enabled workspace, but as they navigate through the trends we can be sure that they will be doing it in a way that suits their culture. For now, we can just be thankful that no one is threatening the demise of their long lunches.

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