Super Sydney: designing for the new age of the super-experience

Australia has led the world in workplace design but isn’t complacent about the shifts ahead. The WORKTECH Sydney 2019 conference looked at the key transformations facing the Australian workplace

Australia has earned its long-standing status in the vanguard of workplace transformation – and it has no plans to give up pole position any time soon. In recognising that its fortress of innovation cannot remain static in the face of rapid digital change, more than 300 workplace professionals attended WORKTECH Sydney 19 at the ICC in Darling Harbour on 21 February. The conference explored the current challenges organisations are facing in the workplace, from building stronger communities and culture to creating super-experiences and embracing digital transformation.

Cutting collaborative fatigue

The phrase ‘great meeting’ may seem an oxymoron to many employees, but the not-for-profit festival organiser Burning Man has made it a mandatory requirement for its internal get-togethers as a way to reduce collaborative fatigue. We have all heard some variation of the statistics which highlight how many hours we spend in meetings, and we have probably felt every single one of those hours, but the Burning Man Project has created a set of strict ground rules to make every meeting valuable.

‘Operate in a climate of trust, shared values and intrinsic motivators…’

Stuart Mangrum, education director of Burning Man, told WORKTECH Sydney that the formula for a great meeting is to place an emphasis on planning (there must be an agenda), encourage people to refuse meetings if they don’t think they will get value from it, and introduce protocols such as no repeating other people and giving positive feedback. This type of work, he advised, can only be successful in organisations that operate in a climate of trust and shared values.

Transition from Gen Y to Z

One unavoidable paradigm that will shake up the future workplace is the influx of Generation Z. This generation can often be seen as an extension of millennials – digitally dependant, prefer hiding behind screens as opposed to face-to-face interaction. But Natalie Slessor of Lendlease highlighted that the two generations differ quite dramatically in terms of behaviour. Where millennials collaborate and are more environmentally and socially conscious, Gen Z have a completely different mindset. They prefer to do rather than talk about things, but they aren’t as good at sharing knowledge as millennials. It’s this that will prove the biggest challenge for organisations – as millennials start to move into leadership positions they will need to understand how best to communicate and collaborate with their new Gen Z teams.

‘Acknowledging digital space as well as physical…’

Slessor proposed five key hypotheses for working in a Gen Z world: stop talking about sustainability and do something about it: design and curate for the ‘side hustle’ generation; create mixed-used developments and space with more diversity; acknowledge that place-making will start with smartphones so we will work in digital as well as the physical space; and engage through space design to address social isolation and loneliness.

The Super-Experience

Chief Experience Officer (CExO) and Vibe Manager are just two of the titles that are currently emerging as a reflection of the role experience is now playing in the workplace. From the ‘instantly Instagrammable’ office to the cultivation of culture and community, experience plays a pivotal role in how people perceive an organisation from the outside, and how they work together on the inside.

‘Using experience as a tool to connect people who do not usually communicate…’

WORKTECH Sydney heard from the ‘Willy Wonka of experience design’, Dr Nelly Ben Hayoun – which was an experience in itself. Infusing the stage with a special energy, Nelly promised to bombard the room with chaos, disorder and knowledge of how she creates unique super-experiences. Using her research into politics, sociology and critical thinking, Nelly explained how we can use experience to break down barriers between silos within organisations.

Nelly illustrated this point with a project she has been conducting with NASA in which she created the first orchestra for space scientists, welcoming any NASA employee to join. Over time this project built a strong community where people were encouraged to communicate through mutual interest. This in turn created the foundation for better communication in the workplace.

Building on the concept of experience, Australian developer Mirvac launched its report at the conference, The Super-Experience, which was co-authored with WORKTECH Academy. The report defines what a super-experience is and looks at workplace experience from three key perspectives: creating awe, curation and learning.

As a complement, Philip Ross of UnWork looked at emerging human-centric technologies that are driving different workplace experiences, as a range of innovations from biometrics and haptic screens to voice-recognition and digital wayfinding break up the old office IT order.

The digital workplace

Today, we ask more from our office buildings than ever before, not just to be intelligent, automated or smart, but now to be cognitive – proactive instead of reactive. This type of building requires data from thousands of connected devices in the building to be outputted to live dashboards. John MacLeod of IBM told WORKTECH Sydney how easy it is for organisations to get swamped in this tsunami of data, where there are now more IoT (Internet of Things) devices than there are people on the planet.

These devices collect more data than is humanly possible to analyse, but it is not outside the remit of machines to digest. Artificial intelligence and machine learning is developing within the workplace to analyse the data collected and use it to predict future outcomes, which can be translated into actionable insights for building managers.

On a more granular level, Simon Carter of RICS and Morphosis looked at sustainable digitalisation. He discussed a renegotiation of the social contract, where corporates need to rethink how they incorporate technology responsibly to benefit their employees. Carter set out a framework for action where organisations need to develop digital literacy, expand their digital strategies to embed ethics and trust, pursue mindfulness, and build a shared vision with employees to drive a smart policy.

Workplace transformation: the case studies

A successful workplace looks different for each organisation, so companies need to be cognisant of the messages they are trying to project to their employees through workplace design. The conference revealed some of the different spatial niches, as Kieran Gartshore of Instant Group put it, that organisations now occupy.

David Jones, Melbourne

Australian retailer David Jones made its workplace transformation bespoke to the needs and wants of the business and its employees. After making the decision to move its headquarters from Sydney to Melbourne, the company established some clear principles early on for its new workplace – creative, collaborative, inspirational, innovative, and a good business journey. The company spent time looking at other inspirational workplaces and engaged with its own staff through a series of workshops. The result is a workplace with the right cultural fit for the company and a design reflecting the initial principles clearly.

Boston Consulting Group, New York

Another workplace transformation which broke the mould was that of Boston Consulting Group in New York. Ross Love, ex-managing partner of BCG, joined Philip Ross to discuss how BCG developed its workspace in the new Hudson Yards development. Love explained that Hudson Yards was a blank canvas when they first acquired the space, and from there BCG created big, open ‘public’ spaces with concierge services and greeters who personally welcome people entering the workspace. The space purposefully incorporated an eclectic mix of space to spark curiosity and promote movement throughout the space, leading BCG to measure how often their employees collided and interacted.

B:Hive, Auckland

Moving beyond the city, James Grose of BVN and Greg Smales of Smales Farm are making the out-of-town campus fashionable again with B:Hive. This business park on the fringe of Auckland, New Zealand, places emphasis on flexibility and community to attract new tenants. B:Hive is based on three fundamentals: belonging, magic and purpose. This is illustrated through the carefully designed architecture and merging of retail, work and leisure space.

This type of space is transforming the way landlords interact with their tenants: instead of engaging tenants once every 15 years for a long-lease renewal, they embark on a business journey together. This allows the landlord to really understand the evolving needs of its tenants, and in return the tenant trusts the landlord and builds a relationship with them.

Raising the game

While Australia maintains its status as a pioneer of the future workplace, WORKTECH Sydney highlighted the changing expectations of technology, space and experience. Many of the discussions throughout the day encouraged organisations to take an introspective look at their own culture and community, and the experience they currently provide for their employees, prompting the question: how can they do better?

Find the full WORKTECH Sydney 19 review site here.
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