The city snaps back: what we learnt from Chicago conference

As our cities and workplaces attempt to bounce back from the pandemic, this Academy briefing looks at the lessons from the WORKTECH Chicago conference as cities begin a process of reinvention

Exactly 150 years after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, the city of Chicago is proving once again its resilience in the face of a major reverse.

A key message from our virtual WORKTECH Chicago event held on 12-13 October 2021, was that, despite the ravages of the pandemic, cities aren’t about to lose their lustre as important places to live and work any time soon. And that applies especially to the Windy City.

WORKTECH Chicago opened with a look at the culture of the city and how it will need to be reimagined to accommodate the emerging needs of citizens and workers. Speaking at the conference, Samuel Kling, fellow and director of Global Cities Research at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, shared data that suggests people are not prepared to turn their back to urban life just yet.

Kling presented the results of a recent Harris Poll survey with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. This found that, despite the challenges of coronavirus, big city residents (those living in central city or downtown areas) are especially eager to stay in cities. Seven in ten residents living in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, and Philadelphia metro areas say they prefer to live in a big city; only 8 per cent say they would prefer to live in the suburbs. In comparison, fewer suburbanites (61 per cent) prefer suburban living, and three in ten would choose a city – big or small – instead.

When asked about how the pandemic affected their preference for where they want to live in, 25 per cent of respondents said that they wanted to move to a bigger city. The survey results undermine the idea of the desire for mass migration to the suburbs and confirm the undimmed cultural attraction of urban environments.

‘One shock of the pandemic is not enough to change the view of the city…’ – Samuel Kling

However, while it is clear people want to remain in the city, they also want to see big changes, especially in terms of housing, transport, policing and social equity,  Kling argues that now is the time to reimagine the city – especially in terms of business district infrastructure. Before the pandemic, downtown areas of cities were largely occupied and dominated by towering office blocks which rarely gave anything back to the public.

Kling now calls for a more diverse spectrum of development to ensure sustainable growth and vitality in the city. Downtown areas need to be more than just a collection of corporate offices, they now need to deliver on a variety of services needed for community life.

Redesigning the workplace

 Much like the city, the office has also proved to be resilient in the face of turbulent and dramatic change. Countless surveys over the past 18 months have found that there is a still a significant desire to return to the office in some capacity, but hybrid working will reshape and reconfigure how the office will look and perform in the future.

At WORKTECH Chicago, a panel of real estate, HR and technology experts from JLL discussed the importance of a ‘test and learn’ approach to workplace design. The real estate experts are leading by example by announcing a 40 per cent cut to its real estate portfolio over the next few years.

It has made this decision by consolidating HR, real estate and technology teams to discuss priorities and make decisions which will define the success of the company from a holistic viewpoint. These discussions led to critical questions such as: how do we define success? What are the new metrics to measure engagement and productivity? How can we use space to reinforce company values?

These questions help guide the blended team of HR, real estate and technology to prioritise the data which needs to be collected, and use it to test and learn from different approaches implemented. While the concept to break down siloed teams is not a new one, JLL argues it is now critical to create a cohesive and safe space for employees to return to in the future.

Learning from global cities

When disruption happens, we need new guides and maps to help navigate opportunities amid the chaos. The need to learn from peers on a global scale is greater than ever. WORKTECH Events is placing thought-leaders and global experts on the stage at WORKTECH New York and WORKTECH London this November and December.

At WORKTECH New York, Jeff Schwartz, author and senior advisor on the future of work at Deloitte Consulting, will present the key issues, critical choices and potential pitfalls that are on the radar of many international companies. Listen to keynote speakers from McKinsey & Company, JLL, Accenture, HOK and more and book your early bird ticket. Attend the event virtually and save 20 per cent by adding the code: WT21-NY-Hybrid.

As the world weighs up its real-estate options, we will hear from leading law firm Norton Rose Fulbright at WORKTECH21 London on its vision, roadmap, policy on hybrid, leadership and innovation. Company representatives will share their thinking for future proofing workplace strategy and real estate footprint, while fostering creativity, new ideas and top talent.

View the full programme and more info here.

Book your ticket here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our virtual and hybrid platforms. This edition is posted 27 October 2021.
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