The Japanese workplace faces the future with Tokyo event

From making cities more magnetic for collaboration to using the inspiration of sci-fi film to envisage the impact of technologies on the future, the WORKTECH Tokyo 2023 conference tracked the latest trends

The traditional Japanese workplace and work culture is currently experiencing a period of reform so the WORKTECH Tokyo conference 2023, held on 6 December at the Akasaka Intercity Conference Centre, was an ideal setting to delve into new ideas on the future of work. On the agenda at WORKTECH’s first in-person event in Tokyo since the pandemic were the issues of humanising the workplace, increasing employee engagement through hybrid workspaces, creating identity within the workforce, and more.

The magnetic city

The event kicked off with a talk from Alessandro Ranaldi, Head of Workplace Consultancy at architectural firm Foster and Partners. In a talk entitled ‘The magnetic city in hybrid working future’, Ranaldi considered that the characteristics that make up today’s workplace are extremely fluid and thus create uncertainty in the design and urban planning process.

When trying to make sense of the forces shaping the future of our cities, Alessandro pointed out that understanding the elements that bring people back to a particular space can be the key to this. On the agenda here is collaboration, the ultimate goal being the creation of permeable walls where different functions can enter into the space and operate within it. Yet, maintaining a sense of collective identity should also be high on the list of priorities.

Also important is creating designs that are respectful of the context in which and for which they are being made – Alessandro Ranaldi pointed out the importance of tying in with both local architecture and surrounding nature.

Designing for uncertainty

The morning saw a talk from Elvira Muñoz, Director of Interiors and EMEA Interior Design Practice Leader at AECOM, where designing for uncertainty was the topic of conversation. An exciting interactive presentation saw key themes highlighted: namely, how articulation of client-specific needs can aid in the design process.

According to Elvira Muñoz, design solutions should be three things: great, innovative and meaningful. She explained how businesses are often forced into making quick decisions, which in turn can incite panic and uncertainty and result in a complicated design process. What was clear from her talk was that design should be ultimately focused on outcomes. The design of a workspace can only be as good as the conversations you are having with your clients: constant communication, therefore, is essential. Taking three case studies as examples – AECOM, Sony Music and Accenture – Elvira Muñoz navigated through how to design for memorable experiences, transforming workspaces through pilots, sharing and constant improvements.

Hybrid engagement

Seiichi Arai, Hybrid Work Solution Specialist at Cisco Systems, spoke about the role of hybrid in creating and maintaining engagement. This talk identified that, for many companies, the transfer to a hybrid mode of working has led to decreased engagement. But why? With Japan rapidly becoming an ageing society, there are many benefits to hybrid and remote working, with people better able to care for elderly parents and children alike without compromising on their work obligations.

However, a lack of hybrid meeting equality combined with poorly designed office spaces often means that employees have a better experience staying at home over coming into the office. A lack of both appropriate meetings spaces and quality equipment is a driving force behind this dissatisfaction. Seiichi Arai discussed in-depth how Cisco renovated its office buildings to mitigate these factors. Through data collection, in-depth analysis and a better understanding of employee needs, hybrid working can boost satisfaction and enable companies to handle the uncertainties of the future.

Facing the future

How can we reimagine the future of the office? What will work look like in 10 or 20 years time? These questions are difficult to answer in a fast-changing world. However futurist and academic at Singapore Institute of Technology, Jawn Lim, suggested that thinking about them is essential to creating a positive future. In his talk he looked to sci-fi TV and film, art and culture to see how imagination has helped us create technologies that have defined the future of our workplace experience.

Jawn Lim instructed his audience in how to identify different drivers of change and examine their impact on the future workplace. He reflected on how shifts in how we work, such as the push towards a gig economy, increase our reliance on technology and highlighted the changes that climate change might bring about in our working lives. He also looked at innovative uses for office buildings, identifying an office tower that is now used for pig farming as a shift in design thinking that could have consequences for how we think about city planning and the urban-rural divide.

This was all part of a rich mosaic of ideas and insights at the conference. Find out more about WORKTECH Tokyo here.

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