Highlights of Worktech 2014

Future’s Rambling #77

This year’s Worktech 14 conference in Melbourne offered a marked improvement over the previous year’s ‘sponsor fest’. Despite a speaking roster that was still heavily weighted to organisations willing to fork out money to support Phillip and Ungroup, this year’s sponsors at least had the good sense to offer engaging talks that provided new perspectives on the workplace story. In particular kudos to NAB for Michaela Healy sharing the people strategy behind the 700 Bourke Street move and Peter Holmes for a titillating view of the future of retail banking.

Reflecting on the day’s events, three themes emerged that were supported by the sixteen speakers. These were the concept of enterprise, experience and self-regulation

A project or activity that involves many people and that is often difficult / a business organisation / the ability or desire to do dangerous or difficult things or to solve problems in new ways.

Speakers at Worktech mentioned enterprise in the context of leadership, banking and education. Amanda Martin from the Melbourne Business School suggested leaders today must be enterprise focused, steering away from the individual’s goals and KPIs. Martin says great leaders today must have the ability to adapt to a changing world, and respond to today’s leadership context which she defines with the acronym VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. These new conditions demand greater innovation and a changed perspective, but most of all good leaders today recognise building culture is very much a part of their role.

Peter Holmes from NAB suggested the bank would engage customers by converging the digital and physical environment with people, creating an ‘enterprise footprint’ to encourage working together, rather than in isolation. Spaces like NAB’s ‘co- working hub environments’ e.g. The Village at 700 Bourke, are a physical manifestation of the enterprise footprint that offers opportunities for cross channel exchange between customers.

Julian Waters-Lynch encouraged us to be ‘enterprising’ by creating the business that would put us out of business. To do this we need great ideas which he maintains are the result of networks. Flow of knowledge is the new metaphor of an organisation, it is a living / learning system that delivers great creativity when it brings together three key elements: density (people being together) + diversity (different kinds of people) + a safe place (a culture that allows mistakes).

The process of doing and seeing things and of having things happen to you.

We are used to describing physical environments as experiential, but often use the word when referencing retail and entertainment spaces, Worktech presenters expanded this to the workplace lexicon.
Frank Rexach from Haworth spoke of the creation of a collaborative experience that encourages people to talk across boundaries. This is the theme behind the co-working club lounge space at 1 O’Connell in Sydney, a new joint venture between Haworth and Lend Lease.

Frank was not the only co working advocate. Julian Waters-Lynch, a PHD student from RMIT and the Holios group, asked why Kodak didn’t see Instagram coming. Suggesting part of the ‘innovator’s dilemma’ comes not from the things we know we don’t know, but from things we don’t know we don’t know, Waters – Lynch uses this to trump co-working spaces as places to provide valuable insight from other organisations that offer a glimpse beyond to a ‘different game’. This is critical he says, because innovation cannot come from inside an organisation.

Another advocate for creating a unique experience was Peter Holmes from NAB. His description of the bank of the future: highly interactive, having smart technologies, and offering face to face customer service incorporating gamification to help customers learn to use new technologies were key ingredients of a space that is less about transaction and more around creating a customer experience.

Co-working spaces are the logical next steps for the students of MLC School in Sydney who are learning in an environment that performs similarly. Principal Denice Scala believes teachers play a role in co- constructing an experience with their students that is non-hierarchal, allows collaboration, reflection, connection and relationships.
Scala’s idea of an effective learning environment is its ability to be: flexible, active, exploratory, multi-sensory, immersive and experimental. Interestingly, like Waters-Lynch, she links innovation to environments that are physically and psychologically safe e.g. you’re not labelled a ‘dope’ for trying something.

An official rule or law that says how something should be done.

This often repeated phrase at the conference related to self-regulation, but Hayden Perkin’s case study of Google’s New York office gave insights into both. Google’s global guidelines speak to regulation, while the company’s culture encourages each location to manipulate those guidelines effectively supporting self-regulation.

Working in facilities for a company like Google with a culture of giving people what they want would not be for the faint of heart. Describing the environment as “controlled chaos”, Perkins explained each “googler” was given an erector set type kit of parts manufactured by Haworth that they could use to create the workplace of their dreams. As long as they didn’t encroach on the carpet denoting the fire egress and mandatory exits, they were free to let their imaginations run wild.

Despite unfettered freedom, Perkins learned some workers didn’t want to make their own workplace and suggested that was his job. Fair go. He also learned that despite all the hype, not everyone likes chaos. Google’s approach posed a stark contrast to the defined approach taken by NAB who maintains the bank has clarity of direction in their fitout, unlike Google it is not a democracy and saying no was sometimes required to maintain focus.

No Worktech would be complete without Phillip Ross telling us about the future. This year he, and Gordon Graylish from Intel, provided a glimpse to the future of new technologies that will definitely impact the way we work and challenge our notions of the status quo. Graylish summed up the changes using another acronym that he says is new paradigm for IT – SMAC = social, mobile, analytical and cloud.

Our personal productivity will be improved by creating a ‘proactive context’ using data from our phones and NFC, near field communication, readers. These are emerging technologies that will tag and track our movements; similar to indoor positioning systems like the iBeacon, they are a new class of low-powered, low cost transmitters that are location-aware, context-aware, pervasive, small wireless sensors that pinpoint location and they are coming to a workplace near you.

Also on the horizon is the sociometric badge! Well la de da, we already have them; I’ve been wearing one around my neck for a week. The device developed by the MIT Media Lab is a wearable sensing device that records human behaviour and social interactions.

Pretty spiffy, but Gaylish warns us not to consider technology our saviour. Those wireless charging and docking stations, seamless sharing, wireless syncing, voice activation and secure file transfer will not transform our work lives on their own! Gaylish says it is only in combination with HR and space that technologies will open doors for new ways of working, proving once again that great minds think alike!


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