Held on Wednesday 9th November, the Workplace Week Convention was the keystone of Advanced Workplace Associates ‘Workplace Week’ event, a 5 day exhibition of workplaces of the present and the future aiming to educate workplace professionals while raising money for Children in Need.
The convention was entitled Life, work and place in 2020, with the overriding theme one of looking to the future and trying to get a glimpse of what we can expect moving forward. The location – KPMG’s office in the super-modern, almost futuristic Canary Wharf.
As I rode the long escalator up from Canary Wharf’s spaceport-like tube station and made my way over to the KPMG building, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of excitement. What do today’s experts think the workplace will look like in 9 years? What will the future bring for facilities managers (and of course, facilities management training companies!)? Will FMs become defunct as we migrate into a world of home working and virtual reality meeting spaces, or will things remain largely as they are?
The morning sessions were highly geared towards what the future could potentially hold. Following on from a montage of videos taken from AWA’s 2020 Visions programme came the highlight of the morning, a presentation by Misha Gopaul of Fabric Technologies. Misha’s session was both exciting and terrifying in equal measures. Imagine a future in which we make regular use of the communication technologies of Star Trek, the computer interfaces of Minority Report and the artificial intelligence capabilities of Blade Runner and you begin to get the idea. Misha’s presentation was punctuated by a brace of videos.
The first, an IBM supercomputer showing it’s artificial genius by intellectually destroying two human opponents on the American game show ‘Jeopardy’ – over two days the computer romped to an overwhelming score of $77,147, with the nearest competitor achieving only $24,000.
The second video presented a vision of 2020 as seen by Microsoft which, erudite though I believe myself to be, I am struggling to find words to describe. Probably best simply to watch the video and draw your own conclusions.
Misha’s presentation was followed by Leon Benjamin, who gave us an interesting and refreshing talk on the subject of social media. Refreshing because it moved away from the ‘beginners introduction to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn’ seminars which are ten-a-penny these days and focused on how a company can completely embrace social technologies to revolutionise internal communications.
As Leon’s presentation came to an end and we edged closer to the gastronomic showcase that awaited us for lunch (better known, at least in my native Yorkshire, as ‘a bloody good spread’) a quick scan of the room showed the Facilities Managers in attendance shifting slightly uncomfortably in their seats. All of this talk of future technology had an uncomfortable underlying message – ‘the office is dead (or will be soon), long live mobile working.’ Thankfully, those of us reliant on the FM industry to earn a living were relieved to see Stuart Harris take to the stage to introduce the afternoon session. Stuart is Deputy Chair of the BIFM and has worked in the built environment in various roles for over 25 years – definitely a facilities man, then!
Our fears were further quelled by the afternoon’s first presentation by Peter Haig, CEO of well-known market research company Mintel. Peter gave us a guided tour of the process he went through to move Mintel from it’s former premises, which it shared with a large family of mice, to its hyper-modern new office with all the usual mod-cons – a caravan, phone boxes and yes, even a TARDIS. We were able to see that the office is not dead after all, it just needs to be more flexible and offer a means for its users to travel across time and space.
The key lesson to take from Peter’s presentation was one of communication. In order for a major change to work (and I’m not just talking about the TARDIS – Mintel’s new offices heralded a new era of cross-company interaction by removing the conventional ‘one person, one desk’ system and introducing a system of hot desking for all employees – including Peter himself) it is crucial to consult and communicate with the people who will ultimately be affected by that change – users, customers or however you want to categorise them. This is a principle which we hammer home time and time again to the students on our Facilities Management training courses and it was good to hear the same advice from a man who is undoubtedly at the top of his game.
The afternoon continued with an interesting piece from Dr Richard Sykes, formerly of ICI and more of an IT man than a facilities professional. However, the idea he was promoting was interesting to say the least – with all these technological advancements having such a profound effect on the workplace and the way we run our premises, it is likely that the role of the facilities manager will expand over the next few years and take greater responsibility for the IT function. Although many FMs already work to some degree with IT, Dr Sykes believes that a new breed of technically literate facilities managers will become the norm moving forward. As if there wasn’t already enough confusion about what the role of an FM actually involves!
After a quick coffee break which saw me running at top speed down to Canary Wharf tube to reunite my wife with her laptop charger that I had accidentally picked up that morning, we moved on to the final two sessions of the afternoon.
First, Wes McGregor of AWA took to the stage to talk to us about what he believes will be the role of the workplace in 2020. His vision seemed to tie in with what Peter Haig has implemented at Mintel (not a complete surprise, seen as AWA worked with Mintel on that project!) that the office should be more fluid, giving employees a variety of options in terms of how they wish to work rather than taking the old fashioned route of chaining people to an individual desk. Wes is a firm advocate of combining hot desks, social areas, meeting rooms, quiet spaces and of course, mobile working to transform the traditional office into a central hub which provides everything it’s users need if they want to use it. One of the key elements, according to Wes, is choice – give employees the choice to work in the manner that they feel is best for them personally. The individual is King.
The final session of the day was presented by Katherine Deas of Low Carbon Workplace, asking us a very pertinent question when we consider the emphasis placed on sustainability today – will low carbon workplaces be important or irrelevant in 2020? The answer is that the creation of low carbon workplaces will most certainly still be important in 2020. Although expectations have been set that a small carbon footprint should be the norm in the future, there is a long way to go and a number of issues still to be addressed, although it is reassuring to note that there are a large number of energy efficient technologies already in widespread use (PIR Lighting, to name just one).
And so the day came to an end. After enjoying the obligatory glass of wine and having a chat with a few of the attendees and speakers, I headed off feeling enlightened and excited about what the future will hold. All that remains now is to say thank you to Andrew Mawson and Advanced Workplace Associates for organising a thoroughly entertaining and interesting day. I look forward to seeing what they can do to improve Workplace Week even further next year.
For more information on Workplace Week, or to download the slides from any of the presentations described here, visit www.workplaceweek.com
To donate to Children in Need, go to the Workplace Week JustGiving page.