Future office and changing business of work debated at Workplace Trends

Those working within the built environment are already in the change business, was the view of Neil Usher of workessence in his presentation at the Workplace Trends Conference which was held in London this week. This was apt, as the changing business of work’ was the theme of the conference. It’s a pretty common topic these days of course but a strong line up of speakers ensured some interesting discussions; which included the rise of the gig economy, the variety of ways people from different cultures perceive workplace design and predictions on the workplaces of the future. On the current design and fit out of the office, Usher was clear; that creating a fantastic workplace is independent of culture, location, the work style you want to create and the sector in which you’re working. His other mantra was that you can still work in an awful workplace with great technology, but not the other way around, which is why there is no excuse for not getting your technology right.

On this point came a pertinent question posed by Paul Miller, CEO and Founder of the Digital Workplace Group (DWG) and co-author of The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future: ‘Would CEO’s and business leaders who admit they are digitally illiterate sustain a business career if they were similarly unable to read?’ How effective can they be, he asked, if they don’t understand the fundamental impact new technology is making on the workplace?

The idea of virtual work was echoed in a description of the rise of the gig economy in a session from Brhmie Balaram, Senior Researcher in the RSA’s Economy, Enterprise and Manufacturing team who leads the RSA’s research on the sharing economy. She explained that gig working shouldn’t be conflated with other types of work such as freelancing. She describes it as way of using online platforms to find small jobs, sometimes completed immediately after request or on demand, and supported by app technology.

However controversial the concept though, gig working will be an enduring part of our economy and RSA research has shown it accounts for 1.1 million workers. Gig working, she suggested can allow people to choose the kind of workplace design they favour, and is feeding into the spread of coworking offices. These open style spaces will become test grounds for more creative layouts she argued.

No workplace conference would be complete without some predictions for the office of the future and Christine Kohlert of the RBSGROUP EU, and co-author of Space for Creative Thinking Design Principles for Work and Learning Environments, began by reassuring delegates that the office is definitely not doomed. We will always need them because we want a place to share our ideas – so the offices of the future will be designed for creativity and wellbeing.

As Kohlert described it, buildings are being designed now that will be used in some form or other for decades, and as the way we work evolves, these spaces must be designed flexibly enough to meet those changes but always appreciating that the organisation of the future will be a location for encounter.

For a comprehensive commentary on the conference Click here for the Live Blog with Su Butcher of Just Practising.