WorkTech’11 – West Coast (report by Dr. Jim Ware)

WorkTech11 West Coast was the first event hosted by Unwired Ventures Ltd in Silicon Valley. And it was a good day, time and money well spent. Great lineup of speakers, intriguing stories, and excellent opportunities for networking. I don’t know the numbers, but I’d guess there were about 150 people in attendance, from all over the U.S. and some further afield.

Randy Knox

The Conference Chair was Randy Knox, Senior Director of Workplace Solutions at Adobe. He introduced an impressive roster of speakers and panels, and wove the conversations together throughout the day.

Nokia Silicon Valley

The Conference venue was the new Nokia Silicon Valley headquarters (see NYT article), and the first speakers took us on a virtual tour of the building, including the story of how it came about. The innovative workplace design, primarily for software engineers, was led by Colin Burry of Gensler; he and Lisa Hsiao told us about how the design emerged from a focus on agile development and small teams. The facility is 100% open space, split between individual “I” workspaces (53%) and collaborative “We” spaces (47%), but it also includes substantial informal gathering areas for relaxation and recreation.

Hamid Shirvani, President California State University, Stanislaus

Dr. Shirvani then took us on a historical tour of urban design, drawing many intriguing parallels between cities and workplaces – the need for “neighborhoods, the variety of “single-family” dwellings, the clustering of factories, and the need for multi-use spaces over the course of a day or a year. He showed us many pictures of suburbs (including the infamous Levittown), suburban shopping centers and office parks. Where too next? Hard to say, but one theme that is emerging in “new urban design” is small, local villages where people can walk or bicycle to their workplaces.

Urban Design: Panel Debate

We were then treated to an open conversation that included Dr. Shirvani, Jim Arce of Cushman & Wakefield, Luigi Sciarabarassi of Symantec, and Tom Sullivan of Wilson Meany Sullivan. The major insight:  the blurring of cities and suburbs; work is coming out to the ‘burbs, but many people are also moving back into center cities. But the most important variable in location decisions (by both individuals and organizations) is the availability of mass transit. And both cities and companies must learn to build in flexibility and anticipate future change. One thing is certain, and that is that nothing is stable. Younger generations care more about technology access (ie, broadband and wireless access) than they do about the local space itself.

Kevin Kelly, author, “What Technology Wants”

Kevin Kellywas the keynote speaker for the day. His new book, “What Technology Wants” is a sweeping overview of the history of technology, with a focus on how technology has changed us as human beings—including but not limited to our health, weight, and other physical characteristics. We are who we are because of technology. And technology is an ecology; modern inventions are dependent on 100’s if not 1000’s of prior technologies, and could not exist on their own. Kelly described the complex ecosystem of technology as a “Technium” that has its own “needs” and “wants” as it continues to evolve over time. All things are interdependent, and there is a natural tendency towards more complexity and more diversity. Intriguingly, some technologies become obsolete, but not extinct; there are today more blacksmiths in the world than at any time in the past. Something to think about.

Nathan Waterhouse, Ideo

Nathan Waterhouse talked about OpenIDEO, a “crowdsourcing” approach to solving large, complex social problems. OpenIDEO is a global virtual community that has been enlisted to tackle very difficult challenges. The community is supported by collaborative technologies through a process of innovative problem-solving that includes four phases: brainstorming, evaluation, solution-finding, and implementation (my words, not Nathan’s). We were treated to a rich story of how this process produced an inexpensive and very sustainable solution to sanitation in one of the poorest of African cities.

Marie Puybaraud, Johnson Controls, and Sudhakar Lahade, Steelcase

Two separate presentations on GenY—really about workforce demographics, with an emphasis on the GenY “digital natives.” Marie Puybaraud shared an overview of her recent research for the “OxyGen” project sponsored by Johnson Controls, including an “up close and personal” look at a day in the life of “Niki,” a young woman who views technology not as an accessory but as an “extremity” or extension of herself. Niki and her peers are fully cloud-dependent and Internet-addicted; they are completely comfortable with multitasking and have been seen using three separate monitor screens at the same time.

Sudhakar Lahade then reported on his research on GenY-ers in the U.S., China, and Russia. He stressed the way that GenY-ers all over the world think of life before work, and view job-changing as career-building, not disloyalty. They network with peers all the time, they collaborate spontaneously, and they think of the workplace as wherever they are. Most striking statistic:  there are 72 million GenY’s in the United States, 426 million in India, and over 800 million in China.

Vwork: Michael Leone, Regus, and Philip Ross, CEO Unwired and the Cordless Group

“Vwork” (see YouTube from WorkTech’11 New York) captures three “V’s” about work in 2011:  Virtual, Value, and advantage. This dual presentation reported on recent research that Unwired and Regus have conducted. While people today view “work” as a verb and not a noun, almost 2/3’s of people still commute to an office most of the time. What’s important however is that people want a 10 minute commute, rather than working at home all the time. This desire to be with others, and to have professional office facilities, is leading to an explosion in local work centers—what many now call “co-working” operations, and others (like me) have called “Third Places.” Think of a corporate headquarters now as the hub of a network, not as a singular destination.

As Leone and Ross pointed out, however, the new challenge is “getting the right people at the right place at the same time.” Thus, scheduling and having good places for collaboration is at the heart of the future of work. How can we make office costs more variable? Citrix gave its employees a budget and let them buy their own PC’s. Why not do the same for offices? Clearly, people want to commute less; the challenge is to create those local work centers, and then help people use them productively.

Rational Mobility:  Kevin Kelly, GSA (The “Other” Kevin Kelly)

We were then treated to our second Kevin Kelly of the day—this one a senior Architect with the Public Buildings Service of the General Services Administration (the “landlord” of the U.S. federal government). This Kevin Kelly reported on life “back at the ranch”—all those buildings that are being used so very differently today than they were designed for. As Kevin put it, the GSA challenge is to provide a “superior workplace at superior value.” Too often workplace strategists do not do an adequate job of analyzing the activity patterns of the workforce. The GSA looks at two dimensions of work:  interactivity and mobility. That produces four distinctive work patterns, with very different needs for “I” and “We” space. Kevin also stressed that noise remains a problem in open offices; he likened the typical open office to Houston, a very large U.S. city with essentially no zoning. He sees “zoning” as the major solution to acoustical issues; set aside spaces where quiet—like a library—is expected and required.

Going Mobile: Dawn Birkett, Salesforce.com and Bryant Rice, DEGW

This brief presentation (the schedule was running late) by Dawn and Bryant focused on the transition that Salesforce.com made to enable employees to work out of the office on a regular basis. The key was that the program was developed centrally for the company, but then implemented on an “opt-in” basis for individual employees who had to obtain manager approval. Thus, the program was available to everyone but applied only to those who chose to do it. The program policies were shaped carefully by a core cross-functional team that included not only HR, IT, and facilities, but also representatives from the legal department to deal with compliance, risk, and equity issues.

Mobility and Virtual Work:  Panel Debate

This panel, comprised of the previous four speakers, responded to questions from  the audience regarding the Unwired/Regus research and the GSA and Salesforce.com stories. The major themes of the debate focused on “opt-in” versus mandatory mobility programs. But in all cases the clear message was that mobility is now a way of life and organizations must find ways to leverage it, reduce real estate costs, and attract/retain talent—because the talent today expects mobility almost as a basic working condition.

Real Time Working:  James Calder, Woods Bagot and Ray Mays, Macquarie Group Americas

This final case study of the day, by James and Ray, focused on the Sydney offices of Macquarie Bank, where no one has an assigned workplace. The presentation included several stunning pictures of the newly redesigned facility, which is very open and filled with light. And the entire facility is open to Macquarie’s customers; none of it is off-limits. Most impressively, 93% of the staff would not go back to “owned” or assigned workdesks. And employee engagement scores are up 30% and sick days are down 42%. How did they do it? As Ray Mays put it, change management was key; the CEO was actively involved, and took many opportunities to express his support. Now he is even more enthusiastic, because he can walk around the building and see staff working “in real time.” And he other bank executives spend much of their time meeting with staff in the small café’s that are sprinkled around the building.

Future of the Workplace Panel Debate

This closing panel of the day was moderated by yours truly, so my notes are sketchy at best as I was “on stage” throughout the session. Other panelist included Mindy Glover of Rio Tinto (U.S.), Jeremy Neuner of NextSpace (a co-working operation with facilities in Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and Los Angeles), and Chris Henderson, Cisco Systems.

We did our best as a group to pull together all the threads from the day. Workforce mobility is clearly a way of life in 2011; the corporate office is now “competing” in a free market, in contrast the “regulated monopoly” back in the days when no one had a choice about where to work; and “third places” like NextSpace offer low-cost alternatives to expensive, underutilized corporate facilities.

From there we all retired to the Nokia lobby where Unwired generously provided wine and nibbles, and a good time was had by all.

It was a powerful day, with almost too much information and too many ideas to sort through; but there is no doubt that the future of work is already here.

Dr Jim Ware, Research Director, Occupiers Journal & Exec Director, The Future of Work…unlimited

jim.ware@occupiersjournal.com

http://www.linkedin.com/in/thefutureofwork

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