WORKTECH11: West Coast Review

Worktech11: Design’s Economics, Technologies, and People

Worktech11 represented a cauldron of innovation – not only for being hosted in Nokia’s Sunnyvale, CA, headquarters, but also because of the myriad in-depth discussions on the economic, cultural, and design implication of today’s workplace trends.

Nokia Headquarters

Nokia Headquarters, Sunnyvale, California

On Location…

After getting a tour of Nokia’s headquarters, I was intrigued by a presentation by Dr. Hamid Shirvani on the history of the urban fabric – and, in particular, how it is integrated with and closely related to the workplace. He described that people live near where they work and more urban centers are becoming central to the fabric of the landscape.

The panel discussion that followed included Dr. Shirvani, Jim Arce of Cushman & Wakefield, Luigi Sciarbarassi of Symantec and Tom Sullivan of Wilson Meany Sullivan. They discussed how neighborhoods and office parks and traffic patterns all play important roles in people’s lives. The trend is clearly to live near the workplace, but there is a blurring of urban and suburban.   Workplaces now must be integrated into the urban design and technology is a significant element in that integration.

 

On Technology…

Kevin Kelly from Wired Magazine — who just wrote a book entitled “What Technology Wants” — was the main attraction for me when it came to technology talks.

He described how technology has a life of its own. We might be able to make slight adjustments here and there, but it is very much like any living organism and will continue to grow in different directions much like the branches of a tree and, like cells, will get more and more complex (much like the DNA code is all about information and an infinite variety of ways it gets put together).

He proposed that technology will increasingly become specialized and even went as far as to call it the 7th kingdom of life, branching off the human chain. More devices will become more dependent on other devices to work, and as a result, our power consumption will be used increasingly for technology and machines moving machines.

Nathan Waterhouse then presented OpenIDEO, a collaborative problem-solving tool. It goes beyond organizational boundaries seeking “open innovation” to access the best minds in the world to help being ideas to solve a problem quickly and inexpensively – and while respecting intellectual property ownership.

OpenIDEO is also smart enough to realize the potential negative implications of crowd sourcing and presented a very socially responsible application.   But thus far the potential is pretty amazing for solving very hairy complex problems.

 

On Generations…

Two presentations – by Marie Puybaraud of Johnson Controls and Sudhakar Lahade of Steelcase – focused on Gen Y in the workplace. These were fascinating.

I learned that Digital Natives have brains identical to the Baby Boomers, but they are essentially the first group that is born into the new technology, so how they use it for work is very different:

  • The smart phone and similar devices are essentially an appendage of their body.
  • We are not very far away from the Six Million Dollar Man; they can’t function with out it.
  • They are a highly mobile and flexible group of individuals, where the social connections are important and can take a variety of forms.
  • They are dedicated to their careers, but not their jobs.

Phillip Ross of Unwork (the force behind Worktech) and Michael Loene of Regus discussed working virtually and how everything will be accessible through the cloud. Sustainability, quality of life, and challenging commutes will push individuals to become much more flexible and work at different times, different places.

Similarly, Dawn Birkett of Salesforce.com and Bryant Rice of DEGW discussed the increasing distribution of the workforce where social interaction, mobility, and openness are key. They discussed how to manage people in such an environment, citing such processes as opt-in telecommuting and key strategies for measuring productivity.

 

On Real Estate…

Kevin Kelly (different from earlier) discussed Rational Mobility and how our government is thinking about managing its 350 million square feet of space. The government is under tremendous pressure to reduce spending, and the GSA is navigating amid challenges like zoning.

He described how the GSA is re-designing its headquarters — a building that is 300,000 sf used to house 2,000 people — to house more than 6,000 people.

James Calder of Woods Bagot and Ray Mays of Macquarie Group described how openness, virtual, and the behavioral impacted the evolution of their workplace designs – even when there were high levels of security required. The space contributed to the culture of the organization and strengthening of its core values and communication.

 

On WorkTech 11 (Generally Speaking)…

There was a good discussion of where things are headed and what is expected for the workplace.   The office as we know it is likely to become less relevant and the workforce will evolve to become more contingent and agile, focusing on skills.

This could also mirror the pattern of technology in which there are many more options and personal choices that are all combined to optimize the environment. In doing so, we’ll continue to see an increase in the productivity of the individuals who use it.

WorkTech was a very stimulating conference and left my head full of potential ideas about workspaces and what the future holds.   The conference was probably one of the best explorations of the workplace that I have seen yet.

I’ll look forward to the next one.

Bob Fox

Bob Fox is the publisher of Work Design Magazine, which he co-launched in 2010 with Steph Hay. Bob also is founder and CEO of the Washington, DC-area design firm FOX Architects. If the weather is nice, he probably can be found sailing near Annapolis, MD.

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