Futures Rambling # 87
By Laurie Aznavoorian

Unless you are a poetry buff you’ve probably never heard of Phillip Levine who died in February at the age of 87, he was a Pulitzer Prize winner, the US Poet laureate 2011 – 2012 and he won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1980 for the collection What Work Is. In his poetry, Levine paints vivid portraits of characters and their jobs, made richer by glimpses he offers us of inner lives, dreams, and the manner in which his characters ponder the world.

When What Work Is was first released world events fuelled Levine’s imagination: unemployment in the US hit a seven year high and America started and ended The Persian Gulf War. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait sent oil prices from $17 a barrel to $36, resulting in a recession that impacted countries around the globe. Having an appreciation of the damaged conditions of American labour provides a context to Levine’s work, which adds an important layer of appreciation.

Few would deny that provides meaning. It offers us just a little more to grasp on to when we understand the motivations behind an action. It’s an argument we frequently make to clients, although, most fortunately now recognise greater transparency of the goals behind planning and design of a new workplace leads to higher employee acceptance and less snarky behaviour during the process.

Recently I was asked to make predictions about future directions in workplace design. For me, the only way to do this was to nestle my crystal ball in context: world events, popular culture, retailing and fashion trends. These are the things that influence us. They have the ability to jump species becoming a catalyst for new initiatives in unrelated areas. The following are five themes which I believe we will see manifested in future workplace designs.

CURATED EXPERIENCES
Why wouldn’t we expect and demand highly personalised, curated work experiences in the future? This trend is already evident in other areas, for example the approach Deil tours in Amsterdam takes to writing tour guides has evolved from the traditional city guide, that in the past focused on the author, to highlighting the traveller. Interests are captured using a short personality test about lifestyle, entertainment and culture preferences to create customised tours.

Another example is The Obama’s administration’s proposal for ‘precision medicine’ that moves medical treatment from a one size fits all approach to account for individual differences in people’s genes, environments and lifestyle. Finally there is our own Australian based Youi Insurance that claims it tailors policies beyond the typical demographic information all companies request. From the online reviews the jury is still out on them.

The opportunity for curated workplace experiences will go beyond what has already been started in ABW and co-working spaces. The potential for developers, property owners and landlords to come to the party by offering new models of space acquisition and new kinds of spaces is significant.

RE-IMAGINING HOW WE WORK
Genuine innovation begins when entrepreneurs take existing concepts and reinvent them as something new, or go against the trend and create a whole new experience. We’re well down the path of redefining what work means having killed sacred cows relating to where and when we work, but there could, and should, be more to come.

We can take notes about reinvention from the three M’s: Madonna, Miley and McConaughey. Madge has been reinventing herself for a quarter of a century, Miley Cyrus’s went from Hannah Montana to wearing Band-Aid nipple pasties and Mathew McConaughey’s Mcconniassance took him from “Fool’s Gold” to “Dallas Buyers Club.” All three prove change is possible with guts and clever marketing.

Speaking of marketing, James Patterson’s self destructing limited edition book is a good example of reimagining the ordinary and Toyota’s Calling All the Heroes advertisement http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYTX_gq54p4 shows how men have evolved in an era where women are apparently their equal, the ad of course does not mention wages. Finally the The New York Times Upshot’s shows us how news can be communicated using infographics, appealing to a new generation of consumers that can’t, or won’t read a whole paragraph.

AUTHENTIC MESSAGES
“Have a nice day – would like fries with that” is fortunately a phrase that is rapidly becoming extinct, we don’t believe fake rote sales pitches anymore and are drawn to the more authentic approach companies like Aesop have taken. They train employees to personally engage with customers and forbid them to discuss mundane topics like the weather.

We’re drawn to messaging that is highly revealing and exposes the warts and all in us, a good example is the Sport England ads ‘I jiggle therefore I am’ and ‘Sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aN7It0CYwHg. These are brutally honest campaigns designed to convince women to exercise, even if they’re uncoordinated oafs whose body parts continue to move well after the main part of them has stopped.

CEO’s of large hotel chains argue upstarts like airbnb are not legitimate threats to their business, but interestingly admit these companies offer travellers authentic experiences by giving access to neighbourhoods where people live, rather than the tourist areas. It is also interesting to note Marriot’s new brand Moxy designed with IKEA is geared to provide authentic, affordable and communal experiences consistent with millennial traveller’s desires.

When it comes to the manifestation of this theme in the workplace there is no greater communicator of brand values and culture than space. For businesses wanting to be authentic, this is often translated into a use of materials that don’t look as polished as those we’ve used in the past and appear to be handmade, where human imperfections is a part and parcel of the appeal.

There is plenty of room to go beyond this tokenism and push for greater authenticity, perhaps by pushing the blend of what is public and private. Companies who really want to be transparent and serve their community should explore this in depth.

HEIGHTENED EXPERIENCES
One of the greater unknowns in predicting what the next generation of workplace will be comes from our limited understanding of how digital environments will impact physical space. There is no doubt we have barely explored ways the Internet of Things will steer both experience and space.

For a glimpse look at the HEXO+ drone which is the world’s first flying camera that follows and films its owner autonomously as they snowboard, motorbike or run a marathon. The HEXO+ hexacopter communicates with its user’s iOS or Android smart phone, this company raised over 1.3 million USD on Kickstarter and drones are currently retailing for under $500USD.

Starbucks, Taco Bell, Hyatt and Hilton hotel are all fine examples of using technology to improve customer’s experiences. Guests enrolled in loyalty programs now check into hotel rooms via apps and use their mobiles phones as room keys. While avoiding queues is the primary purpose of many of these apps, the Liseberg Amusement park in Sweden has employed gamification by allowing those waiting for popular rides to activate a mobile app with games they can play while they wait in line.

Workplace experiences will continue to be enhanced with similar new technologies that go beyond programmed lifts, smart lights and thermostats that we are all familiar with. Technology gives us license to push the workplace into urban space and precinct design seamlessly; blurring what is outside and around the building with what is inside the work environment.

SHARING FOR SOCIAL GOOD.
We have so much data available to us today that it begs the question, how much is too much and what’s it all for? Andrew Keen coined the term digital narcissism in his 2006 book “Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing and Disorienting Us.” He was using the term in the context of self-promotion and sharing on social networks, but it can also be applied to other types of data.

Is the data we are collecting providing real meaning or is it introspective? A trend is developing with millions of ‘post-status’ consumers who have rejected buying and having in favour of doing and creating. Perhaps data will go down the same path? As more objects are connected, clever people will imagine civic minded applications and novel approaches to deriving value from the vast amounts of data we have, coined ‘The Internet of Sharing Things’ the possibilities of using data for social good are endless.

An example is Easy Taxi, they’re one of the world’s largest taxi booking apps and they have recently partnered with Dettol to train cabbies in West Africa to diagnose and prevent the Ebola virus. Similarly the hashtag I’ll Ride With You used social media to combat Islamophobia after the Sydney siege and CrowdVoice, developed in Bahrain by civil rights activist, Es’ra Al-Shafei, relies on crowd sourced contributions to consolidate information about related social movements.

Alfa-Bank in Russia is addressing a community and personal concern when they suggest customers use fitness trackers linked to the banks services to track how much they exercise. For every step recorded by a wearable fitness tracker, funds from the customer’s existing account are transferred into a savings account, which pays a higher rate of interest than normally available.

It might be time to question whether the data we collect in the workplace from Space Utilisation Studies, surveys and sensors is as relevant as it once was; since it is mostly used to build cases for change when organizations generally already know they need change its questionable. This conundrum gives us another opportunity to raise the bar by considering how and why we collect data and creatively think about its application, hopefully devising output that is not just about proving points and is more geared to creating something meaningful to occupiers.

Sources:
LSN Global Trend Tracker
Newman, Jared; Samsung’s $100 Million Internet of Things Bet Is Even Crazier Than You Think; Fast Company
Solomon, Micah; “Millennial Customers Hate Stuffy, Gilded Luxury (But Love Authenticity)”; Forbes on line; January 23, 2015
Rowley, Melissa Jun; “The Quest for Social Justice Goes Mobile” Co.Exist, Ideas + Impact, Fast Company, February 19, 2015

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