Savills innovators explore the future of the workplace
The best way to keep up with innovations in workplace technology and human-centered office design are conferences like WORKTECH, which bring together people across disciplines to discuss what’s working and what’s not. On November 5, one of our workplace strategy and occupant experience specialists, Roberta Diachok, will be chairing WORKTECH19 Toronto. With over two decades in commercial real estate, architecture and design, Roberta will play a major role in presenting an engaging program on the future of the workplace to professionals from across the architecture/design, real estate/facilities management, and IT and HR fields. The WORKTECH19 Conference program will consist of local and international experts joining us from Scotiabank, Zaha Hadid Architects, Deloitte, Maya Design, Pilot Projects Design Collective and more. With limited space remaining, don't miss this opportunity to hear from thought leaders and change-makers exploring the most current technologies, workplace research and innovations transforming the way we think about work.
This year, Savills workplace strategy and occupant experience experts have contributed to WORKTECH conferences across North America to gather and share ideas for helping our clients maximize the effectiveness of the workplace. Here are a few of our key takeaways:
At WORKTECH19 Los Angeles, in May, Shannon Woodcock, Savills Managing Director of Workplace Strategy, traced the evolution of employer responsibility in the workplace, noting how focus has shifted to a more employee-informed model. In the early 1900s, Shannon explained, it was a revolutionary step for employers to agree to limit the workday to eight hours, and to add break time and safety measures. Eventually, employers have come to embrace the concept of thoughtfully designed office space as an investment in productivity.
Looking forward, Shannon shared examples of companies that are starting to pay attention to enhancing the workplace in ways that further support employees’ fitness, mental wellness, and medical health. Other trends she noted include workplaces that are adapting to employee-chosen technology; offering corporate philanthropic efforts as employee benefits; actively valuing and contributing to employees’ free time (providing package delivery lockers onsite, for example); and creating more egalitarian and integrated environments that provide access to C-suite mentorship.
After Shannon’s session kicked off the day-long event, our colleague Johanna Rodriguez, Savills Senior Managing Director of Occupant Experience, also attended WORKTECH19 LA and engaged in several conversations about the astonishing potential uses of technology in work environments, coworking, design and community, and employer responsibility. She noted that discussions balanced the technological future of workplaces and the value of nurturing diverse communities. For her, the two most intriguing sessions touched on new workplace technologies and how intentionally curated communities, in great spaces, contribute to successful business enterprises.
The technology sessions inspired questions about achieving the right balance between data accumulation and privacy. As someone who seeks to understand the optimal use of space and the human experience, Johanna finds that data can provide a path towards improvement, but not without a cost to privacy. As each new generation is more comfortable with the integration of technology, she wonders, will it become commonplace for people to accept and engage with a host of personal monitoring systems, such as employers using biometric data to track employee wellness and emotional states, deploying face recognition for security and real-time space usage, and a “Yelp for the workplace.”
As a counter-balance to the theme of technology ascendance, Johanna appreciated a presentation by Second Home about a curated coworking community in a unique space designed to foster in-person connections. This session showed how creating a diverse community can foster learning and also that providing greater access to more people can help a business grow through human interactions, not just technology innovations. Breathtaking natural work spaces don’t hurt either!
Also in May, WORKTECH19 New York, celebrating 10 years since its first event in the Big Apple, gathered over 300 practitioners, innovators and thought leaders from across disciplines at Convene’s new One Liberty Plaza to share their expertise and vision for the future of work. The conference was a bustling hive of minds from tech, real estate, talent, human capital, urban planning, architecture, design, strategy and research.
“Cities compete for companies; companies compete for talent; talent changes cities. Understanding how this complex dynamic has played out over the last decade can help predict what the next ten years might hold, and provide inspiration for building cities that are more livable, productive, and sustainable.”
That was the theme of a panel I organized and led with Savills Senior Managing Director of Workforce and Incentives Strategy, Kevin Kelly. Titled “Then and Now: A Decade of New York” the session contrasted conditions in New York when the first WORKTECH conference opened there in 2009 with how it has evolved. Back in ’09, few might have predicted that NYC's finance-dominated economy would evolve to be so attractive to tech companies like Google and Amazon.
Kevin discussed the importance of using analytics to understand the dynamic forces affecting the attraction of talent to Manhattan, which is undergoing a sector shift (finance to technology), urbanization (also a national trend), and changing commuting patterns. “While the real estate sector understands very well where existing workers reside today,” he said, “for future talent, we need to be predictive, as talent pools are not static; they are impacted by changes in the employment landscape, e.g., office closures, demographics, e.g., in-migration of professionals, and local production, e.g., higher education pipelines.”
Kevin also presented evidence that New York’s commuting infrastructure gives it a huge advantage over other U.S. cities competing for top talent. “Despite the high cost of living in the center of Manhattan, housing costs decline significantly when moving further out into suburban regions,” he explained. “Due to its substantial and extensive infrastructure, it is possible to move people into New York efficiently via the wide network of subways, trains, buses, and ferries.”
Other sessions at WORKTECH19 NY focused on themes of human-centered design and global innovation, with many sessions emphasizing the workplace experience. Design as a process, rather than a static solution, resonated throughout the sessions. Leaders across the industry seemed to share the view of workplace and technology as an evolution, to be built upon with evidence-based iterations. The implications of future trends, such as AI and robotics, were evident in the desire for adaptable, future-proof environments.
As we get ready for WORKTECH19 Toronto, the program reminded me that the future of the workplace has a profound impact beyond the organization and its employees. I look forward to seeing the development on Toronto’s eastern waterfront by Google sibling Sidewalk Labs to witness the ethics and consequences of the ever-blurring lines between workplace and cityscape and between real estate developers, governments and corporations.
Stay tuned for more coverage of the evolution of the future of work and the workplace, as our workplace strategy and occupant experience specialists keep their fingers on the pulse of our industry.