Sydney promotes the power of people to transform workplace

From consumption economics to communities beyond walls, WORKTECH Sydney 18 highlighted the importance of both the individual and the collective in driving workplace transformation

For a conference with intentions of knitting together the best of work, technology and workplace, WORKTECH Sydney 2018 (held at Darling Harbour’s International Convention Centre on 21 March) began and ended quite appropriately on the topic of people. After all, it is human beings who play the critical role of aggregate-binding these elements together.

Beginning with strategies to inspire us to become fully engaged in our work and perform jobs that provide a sense of purpose and meaning, we moved progressively during the conference to the opposite end of the spectrum. This touched on another innate human desire – our hunger to be part of a larger collective, contributing, sharing and striving to meet common goals.

A multi-sensory approach

As we have come to expect from WORKTECH, Sydney’s extensive line-up of more than 20 speakers and panellists offered us glimpses of exciting new technologies that augment the workplace experience for both individuals and those who work together. New technologies employ expanded sensory touch points: biometrics use vision, haptic interfaces apply touch, and through the introduction of food in the workplace our sense of smell is called upon. All illustrate a multi-sensory approach to enhanced engagement.

In a similar vein, new research considering the impact of hearing drew corollaries between noise in the workplace and knowledge transfer. This work offers a welcome contrast to recent focus on quiet and distractions that have dominated workplace discussions and only reflect on the negative aspects of noise.

Interestingly, the same research explored the representation of females in office interactions and found women under-represented in areas of ideas generation. Clearly, we have some way to go if we hope to engage everyone and achieve real diversity.

‘The ‘civic supermind’ gave us a preview of the power of people working together…’

Changing scale, examples of cities like Shenzhen in China illustrate the significant power of individuals working together in communities, joined by common vision and goals. In this case, people unite against a collective enemy that is the demand for speed to market. Similarly, the notion of the ‘civic supermind’ gave us a preview of the strength of shared vision to leverage the power of people working together, using data and technology to create stronger, safer and better cities.

Seamless workplace experience

The concept of community was equally prominent. Communities address both individual’s emotional needs and an economic imperative to join forces to solve complex problems. The notion of community at WORKTECH Sydney was defined not in terms of what we build, but how we create a sustainable fabric that binds a collection of people together.

Unsurprisingly, technology and data play a key role in supporting community, both in physical space and through digitally connected networks. Workplace communities now connect using fog computing, an enterprise approach to storage, communication and control. Partnerships like Beco + Alexa and Cisco + Spark are finally offering the type of seamless workplace experiences we were promised when the term Internet of Things first graced the workplace lexicon.

Communities beyond walls

With ubiquitous connection theoretically solved, attention now turns to supporting groups in broader community contexts that exist beyond the walls of our office buildings. Global community networks, such as Top Coder, join together through technology and tap into the exquisite skills of accomplished developers around the world. They offer each other online help and employ an open innovation approach to solving complex problems.

Clear benefits of ‘community beyond the walls’ are speed and transparency. Since the groups operate under a different dynamic to traditional organisations, they are able to build a collective intelligence and learn faster than traditional ‘in the walls’ organisations.

Another advantage of ‘communities beyond the walls’ is their ability to engage a highly skilled workforce, who have the freedom to work together without the crippling obstacles of implicit bias with regard to sexual preferences, ethnic background and gender that plague many organisations. It is not surprising, but nevertheless a disappointment, that it takes the blinding aspect of technology to open the doors to all people and achieve greater workplace inclusion.

Consumption economics and change

We were warned of a tsunami of change on the horizon that could decimate the working class. Led by super technology, it brings a new generation of volatility and uncertainty that will demand a level of resilience, agility and inherent creativity in organisations. It will most definitely challenge the status quo.

‘Savvy companies are challenging landlords and developers for greater flexibility’

Many organisations have already tapped into metrics and baseline data available, and know their office space is only used a portion of the time. The savviest are scrutinising their contracts and challenging landlords and developers for greater flexibility, paving the way for solutions that offer the ability to scale down or down and procure space differently.

One positive outcome of this tsunami is the impact it has on ‘normal workplaces’ of ‘normal organisations’. Many companies and individuals are oblivious to the benefits of contemporary workplace ideas being adopted by those organisations that have greater financial means and insights. Seeing these notions trickle down is a pleasing change.

For example, the workplace of the New South Wales government reflects the significant reform they have undertaken and illustrates a physical environment that mirrors the way the agencies now work together. A dialogue has opened around the adoption of flexible working that challenges built offices. The workplace strategy looks to the future, anticipating how the shifting demographic of Sydney redistributes the population across Central, Western and Eastern Sydney hubs.

By overcoming fear, the New South Wales government was able to consider the same unquestionable metrics many corporates use to demonstrate inefficient use of space, paving the way for change. Importantly, those changes are executed at a very different price point to many of the workplaces featured at the Sydney conference. It highlights that the benefits of contemporary workplace have just as much, if not more, to do with mindset than with physical environment.

Rebuilding social trust

As was the case with all of the themes of the conference, trust was explored at individual and community levels. We are familiar with the critical role trust plays in developing relationships between employers and workers. New technologies serve to remind us of the tenuous position we are in, straddling the blurry, thin line that separates privacy infringements and productivity enhancement.

Taking the notion of trust to a macro level, communities and networks must also augment trust to encourage the reciprocity required to leverage the benefits of a working collective.

Sadly it comes at a time (amid Trump and Brexit) where institutions and social trust have eroded, there is a state of individual and societal disillusionment, and it’s imperative that we rebuild social trust and legitimacy. The remedy offered was a call for greater openness; in theory, this will lead to the optimism required to get more people to participate.

So we ended the conference where we began – with people. Whether it is in a workplace, a community or global network, our future lies in an ability to tap into brilliant individuals possessing the conviction necessary to combat today’s societal maladies: mental illness, loneliness, complexity overload, bullying. Our success lies not in work, workplaces or technology, but the people who occupy them.

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