Stop, look and listen: key takeaways from Paris event

Our WORKTECH Paris 2022 conference was awash with new ideas, but no concept was more central than taking the time to consider employee needs in-depth and with more seriousness

The power of astute observation was highlighted at WORKTECH Paris 2022, held at Haworth’s showroom on Thursday 1 December 2022. A plethora of companies extolled the virtues of patient watching and listening with much fervour.

Using real-life observations to inform positive changes and create impact may sound simple, but the switch from a production-line approach to the office toward a more holistic, observant space suggests that employee needs are not slipping down the priority list even as some employers make lay-offs and issue back-to-work mandates.

MIT observes innovation

Luca Bussolini from design innovation firm Carlo Ratti Associates took to the floor to explain what patient research has to offer the world of work. Working with Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT), Carlo Ratti Associates analysed the email data from around 3,000 people at the university and mapped who each person talked to and what their discussions entailed.

They found that during the pandemic there was a significant breakdown in communication between different departments and linked this research to knowledge about how bringing people together from different backgrounds can create innovation. So, what does this mean for the world of work? Well, if online working prevents serendipitous conversations, it may well also constrain innovation, suggesting that the future of working is, at least in part, in the office.

Here, careful observation and planning reveals the patterns in behaviour we need to create the effective office of the future.

A new FM perspective

On behalf of Deezer, a French online music streaming service, Mary Jude Reidy discussed how the current model of facility management (FM) is preventing teams from taking real action. Instead she offered a new perspective on the facilities teams which can open a company’s eyes to the true needs of employees.

Reidy proffered that the FM approach is holding teams back: the idea of the ‘internal client’ prevents FM teams from connecting with their colleagues and distances them, pushing them towards following supposed ‘best practice’ rather than innovating solutions to the problems faced by their own colleagues.

By switching up this perspective and embracing the connectedness of different teams, Deezer has been able to break down silos and make real change. Taking the time to observe and understand the office experience for individual roles, and addressing them through novel thinking, has been transformative and mutually beneficial for both the FM team and the rest of the staff.

Responding to client needs

Pascal Hamonic from furniture company Haworth also spoke about the importance of paying increased attention – this time to interactions with clients. In the modern workplace, offices need to be flexible, agile and highly functional in order to meet changing needs. The best approach to delivering high-quality office design is not one-size-fits-all but listening closely to clients.

For Haworth there are the four pillars of creativity that must be considered to create a great office space – flexibility, wellbeing, digital integration and corporate and social responsibility. These pillars make up Haworth’s design ethos and balancing client needs within these spaces is the key to designing positive workplaces for all.

WORKTECH Paris offered an illuminating insight into the working world of 2023, which will require listening and thought as well as action. View the event here and see our events calendar and get involved here.

Echo Callaghan is an interdisciplinary researcher and writer with WORKTECH Academy. She holds degrees from the University of York and Trinity College Dublin.
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