Talent magnet: Basel conference builds case for better office buildings

Switzerland already leads the world in attracting the best talent. But despite this accolade, its workplace community is not resting on its laurels, as WORKTECH Basel 2024 demonstrated

According to the World Economic Forum, Switzerland is now the world’s most talent-competitive country. Two new surveys confirm that the Swiss hold a winning hand in terms of offering premium talent a stable economy, great quality of life, top universities and a dynamic interaction between research and industry. The country also ranks first for innovation, says the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

Against this background, one could be forgiven for thinking that those who design, plan and manage the Swiss workplace are feeling a bit smug right now. With so many national advantages, what could possibly still need fixing for employees?

Delegates at the WORKTECH Basel 2024 conference, however, were left in no doubt that there remains plenty of room for improvement. Complacency was out of the question.

Bright creative minds

The Basel event, held on 9 April 2024, brought together some of Switzerland’s biggest corporate occupiers with some of the brightest technical and creative minds in the workplace sector.

It was held in the KHaus, a handsome former military building skilfully redesigned as a riverfront cultural and coworking hub by Key Kawamura of Studio Banana, who co-chaired the conference, and preceded the day before by a tour of the inspirational VitraHaus just over the border in Germany.

How to make offices work in new and better ways was a consistent theme throughout the event, as speakers riffed off a big-picture opening keynote in which Dr Jan Mischke from McKinsey Global Institute predicted an irreversible 10 per cent global decline in office space use by 2030 and hybrid working settling at 3.5 days per week in the office.

Mischke’s message was that ‘the whole world is real estate’ – profound changes to the built environment would mean profound changes to our wealth and our cities. His formula for managing change included flexible floors, adaptable buildings, healthy mixed-use neighbourhoods and recapitalised finance.

What else did WORKTECH Basel advocate for the future of the office? Here are seven ideas for improvement.

Ideas for improvement

Digital innovation: Nicholas Henchoz, founding director of the EPFL-ECAL design lab in Lausanne, argued for the role of art and culture to bridge the digital and physical spaces of the workplace. He argued for an approach that goes beyond preconceived ideas and understands underlying needs, showing art-of-the-possible projects from his own lab to illustrate his point.

Better lighting: Signify director Peter Duine made a compelling argument for how circadian lighting can make a significant contribution to wellbeing, performance and sleep health. Investment in lighting was investment in people and paid for itself quickly. Duine made ‘cyan’ the buzzword of the conference.

More character: WORKTECH Academy director Jeremy Myerson explored the question of whether the ‘flight to quality’ in office buildings would be enough to bring people back to the workplace. Technical perfection could be boring. Should there instead be a ‘flight to character’ in which workspaces are given narrative and meaning in adaptively reused historic buildings?

‘An approach that goes beyond preconceived ideas and understands underlying needs…’

Brand values: In a case study featuring the almost 150-year-old family-owned Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet, Studio Banana’s Key Kawamura showed how a workplace strategy based on careful evolution of brand values (‘in praise of longevity’) could result in a series of outstanding workspace projects at different scales.

Data-driven approach: Roche’s Christoph Rogge took delegates on an entertaining 10-year journey from simply gathering data on office building performance to turning it into information that can be communicated via dashboards, and then making data-led knowledge actionable via an integrated workplace management system. The next step, said Rogge, is wisdom. Neither Roche nor its peers are there yet.

Better connectivity: In a panel moderated by M Moser’s Audrey Zaimeche, experts argued that technology needed to really deliver in the hybrid era. Poor connectivity created anxiety but ‘the last frontier of digitalisation is the office building’, said Peyman Blumstengel of Haltian.

Focus space: Gensler’s Philip Tidd, the closing keynote speaker at WORKTECH Basel, used global survey data to show how the top priority for workers in the office today is to ‘focus on my work’. The workplace can no longer just be one big collaborative brainstorm – new spaces need to support concentration.

Plenty, then, for the high-performing Swiss workplace concentrate on – as if it wasn’t already setting the pace in designing the new office.

Find out more about WORKTECH Basel 2024 here.

Find exclusive content in the


Premium content for Global Partners, Corporate and Community Members.
The latest analysis and commentary on the future of work and workplace in five distinct themes: Research & Insights, Case Studies, Expert Interviews, Trend Publications, and Technology Guides.