The Unworking Conference: what needs to be relearnt?

WORKTECH's London conference on 'unworking' looked at which workplace traditions should be unravelled and which ideas need relearning

Inspired by the book written by WORKTECH Academy co-founders Jeremy Myerson and Philip Ross, ‘Unworking: The Reinvention of the Modern Office,’ the two-day Unworking conference looked at what old habits and customs we must relearn for a new age of digital technology, design innovation and diverse workforces.

The event was held in London at the Fenchurch Street offices of Arcadis and Accenture on 14-15 June, with day one focusing on smart technologies while day two examined workplace experience. Here are some key takeaways:

The City

The first topic under scrutiny was the city, with an opening keynote from Professor Ricky Burdett, Professor of Urban Studies at London School of Economics, and a panel led by Jeremy Myerson with Sir Stuart Lipton from Lipton Rogers Developments, Dan Drogman, CEO of Smart Spaces, Dr Imogen Privett consultant at Unwork and Tim Creswick, founder or Vorboss, appearing alongside Burdett.

Unlearning preconceptions about the city in order to bring in innovation was the aim of the game, with Burdett kicking proceedings off with a comparative analysis of cities across the globe, looking at both how they are expanding and contracting and, importantly, why. He highlighted how fears about density have been exaggerated, with dense cities coping better with Covid-19 and local neighbourhoods becoming more vibrant even as the CBD fell quiet.

Sir Stuart Lipton, a force for change in the city, encouraged a more human-centric approach to the city, asking how companies can work together to create more vibrant environments and more interesting offerings for people coming into the workplace than the traditional office towers with one floor per tenant. In the panel discussion, the five experts offered a range of approaches to the creation of a vibrant, digital city that centred wellbeing and inclusivity, unravelling old assumptions about the city as a place of privileged access.

The Workplace Experience

The idea of the workplace experience has come significantly to the fore in recent years, but there is still relearning to be done when it comes to what the journey of an employees should be like within an organisation.

First off to offer a provocation for change was Ellie Houldsworth, Cloud Transformation & Architecture Manager at Accenture. In her talk she highlighted how most leaders think people leave their roles for higher salaries, but only 12 per cent of employees cite salary as a reason for leaving a company. Instead, not having the right tools and technology to do their jobs was high up on the reasons employees give for leaving. To manage this, Accenture has developed a framework for understanding people’s needs, starting with finding the company’s ‘north star’ and guiding vision to developing a business case for transformation.

Similarly, Claire de Carteret, Managing Director for EMEA at Gallup, forced the audience to consider whether their company helps make the world a better place. Citing that only 10 per cent of people are fully engaged with their roles, she suggested that ‘meaning-making’ is the key to an engaged employee and that developing a common purpose is critical to the workplace experience.

The Workplace Culture

On a wider scale, what changes to how we think about workplace culture can help us develop a more productive and happier workforce? According to four-day week campaigner Joe Ryle, the answer lies with the fout-day week. He gave an overview of the largest ever pilot for the four-day week which occurred recently in the UK, taking us through the highs and, in fairness to him, very few lows of the pilot. Could a four-day week revive your workplace culture? According to this research – absolutely.

But for James Scroggs, Co-Founder of New Working Class, the best workplace cultures are inclusive and offer opportunities for growth. More and more people are leaving university feeling underprepared, and employers are taking on graduates whose learning doesn’t reflect their roles.  As the cost of going to university continues to increase, workplaces and young people alike need to look to new ways of learning and mentoring.

Using underutilised spaces in local communities is one example of ‘unworking’ from New Working Class. This approach designs community-led learning to fit around working, helping people to develop new skills and giving employers access better qualified applicants. Among the many and varied presentations at WOKTECH’s Unworking Conference 2023, this definitely felt like a win-win.

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.