The blended workplace: Singapore shakes up a trio of ingredients

How can culture, technology and space be regarded in equal measure in the workplace of the future? The WORKTECH Singapore 2018 conference took a closer look at how organisations are responding to change

As new technologies such as AI and cloud computing orchestrate a shift to new ways of working, people may never even have to meet in order to collaborate and communicate. So why does the workplace still play such a pivotal role in the future of work?

Singapore has recognised that technology is the driving force for shaping the future of work and workplace, but accepts that isolating people is not the answer. The annual WORKTECH Singapore conference, held on 18 September 2018 at Orchard City Centre, highlighted that the workplace matters now more than ever – the challenge is to find a blend of culture, technology and space.

Finding the right blend

Andrew Ortola of Microsoft adopted this holistic way of thinking to explain that a workplace which harnesses teamwork, unlocks creativity, and ultimately allows any device to enable work from anywhere, needs to draw from culture, technology and space.

The numbers speak for themselves: 75 per cent of organisations are in the process of workplace transformations, said Ortola, of which half are not working due to behaviour and cultural misalignment. Having the right collaborative and digital tools is important to unleash creativity and 72 per cent of workers believe their success depends on if they are creative. However, a shocking 61 per cent of employees think their workforce is not creative.

New leadership needed

Culture is a strong driver and motivator for implementing new technologies and spatial designs. Iolanda Meehan of business management consultancy Veldhoen + Company explained that a focus on leadership skills is critical to make new ways of working successful.

Traditional methods of leadership do not work in activity-based working teams and new skills for leadership have emerged such as communication, trust, connectivity, collaboration and knowledge sharing. These characteristics have shaped the framework for ‘BRAVING’ the relationship between people in the office (B-boundaries; R-reliability; A-Accountability; V-vault; I-integrity; N-non-judgement; G-generosity and assuming good intentions).

Designing for the future

There is a constant threat of what the rise of automation and AI will mean for the future of jobs. Glen Foster and Brendan Bruce of Haworth explained that in the next 10 years, 53 per cent of current jobs will disappear. The silver lining is that 65 per cent of jobs the next generation will fill do not exist today.

Instead of waiting for impending doom, the workplace needs to accommodate for the changing nature of work. Agile working is prompting faster decision making and work cultures are slowly becoming un-siloed as teams form a complex and dynamic web of digital and physical networks. This type of work has to be supported by the appropriate digital tools to enable fast and effective collaboration, but how can space be redesigned?

Acoustics are fundamental to workplace productivity; 66 per cent of people say they are less productive in agile environments largely due to lack of acoustic privacy. A strong indicator of how well space is working is by simply measuring its utilisation. Inexpensive sensors in furniture and ceilings in the office can indicate how popular a space is through its utilisation.

Smarter law office

Janneke Maisey of law firm Hall & Wilcox and Andrea Egbert of Calder Consultants explained their efforts to transform a traditional law workplace environment into a ‘smarter law’ workplace – an unenviable task. Automation and AI is strongly impacting the nature of the legal industry, ‘routine’ desk-based tasks can be automated leaving space for networks and ecosystems to flourish.

However, law is a deeply traditional profession and one which is not known for inviting substantial changes, so the journey to transformation started with identifying the personas of typical workers in the legal environment. From this, Hall & Willcox used data collected from sensors around the office to understand the needs of each worker. This data-led approach allowed them to create spaces which reflect real working habits.

Connected workplaces

The smart automated workplace will include technologies such as the cloud, mobile devices, AI and machine learning, virtual assistants, robotic process, workplace analytics, augmented experiences and IoT to name a few. With the influx of technology, choice of which ones to implement can be over whelming. Vanessa Sulikowski of Cisco encourages organisations to ask themselves three questions: What do people actually need to do their work? What technologies will support them to do this work? What type of environment do people need to work in to conduct this work to the best of their ability?

Rob Wilkinson of Colliers (see his article here) looked at the different stages of adoption of cloud technologies, branding this journey as the Internet of Workplace (IoW). A curve from traditional transitioning to IoW adopter and IoW powered marks the direction of this journey. Occupiers should consider that cloud migration should be overseen by an integrated team of HR, IT and Real Estate and it could promote a BYOD culture. Landlords need to evaluate how this will affect lease terms and technical infrastructure in the face of the connected cloud.

Digital transformation strategy

Marcus Dervin of digital transformation specialists Webvine called for an end to email dictating workplace communication and collaboration. He outlines the six I’s framework for true digital transformation:

  • Identify – listen to and review how people are working and identify where the inefficiencies are
  • Impact – measure the impact of changing the process. Understand the cost implications from time to finance
  • Ideate – look at all the possible ideas to implement change and solve problems and then work out what it will cost across the organisation. Then find the top 10 solutions the organisations should invest in
  • Innovate – look at the nice-to-haves versus the must-haves. This will help to start the implementation quickly
  • Implement – activate the strategy in the workplace.
  • Iterate – evaluate how the implementation is working. Has it hit the projected numbers? How can it be improved?

Digital transformation is an inevitability for all successful, forward-thinking organisations.AI will only accelerate this process. The AI industry is predicted to be worth $35 billion by 2021. As Dragana Beara of Dell told the Singapore conference, we are entering into the fifth revolution where human and machine partnering will extend further. She illustrated a world where a fridge will keep count of a households’ food stock and reorder with the desired supermarket when food is running low without instruction of the owner. Say goodbye to the disappointment of an empty fridge.

Through a wider lens

The evolution of technology not only impacts the workplace, but also the wider urban structure of the city. Marco Maria Pedrazzo of Carlo Ratti Associati design firm explained that space has become both more fragmented and more integrated. We now use wi-fi patterns and digital footprints to understand the usage of our buildings and we have created a series of hybrid spaces which readily allow collaboration with the people around us. As driverless cars take to the roads, car parks are set to become multi-functional event spaces, predicted Pedrazzo.

From the angles of culture, technology and space, Singapore peeked into a future being created before our eyes, reinforcing the perception that Asia Pacific is moving fast to blend the perspectives.

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