Condeco was pleased to support an exciting event hosted by Quora. Around 100 guests heard industry leaders in an ‘unplugged’ format, each talking openly about how they are confronting the changing nature of work. Julian Griffith gives this thoughts on the event.
Quora helps mid-large size organisations achieve high performance work practices and workplaces which deliver improved productivity, optimised costs, and stronger employee engagement.
Sometimes it’s easy to predict what you’re going to hear from a speaker at a conference, especially in the world of workplace management. It might be a case study of ACME’s implementation of a new building automation technology, heavy on vendor references, light on practical insights. Or perhaps a consultant running through the results of a latest set of employee feedback data gathered just in time for the conference but sadly missing the “so what”. Either way, the experience can be predictable and certainly heavy on PowerPoint. What I like about the Quora Workplace Summit Series is the organisers’ very different approach to delivering a conference experience. The first most obvious difference is the format: No PowerPoint, no lectern, no microphone. Speakers present for around 20 mins in a classic “story telling” delivery, which surely results in far greater audience engagement and genuine eye to eye contact with the speaker. Second, and likely as a result of not having a rigid set of slides to run through, the topics are wider ranging and free flowing, interspersed with more real life context, humour and a greater encouragement of audience participation.
Quora was able to find speakers from a variety of backgrounds and organisations, spanning roles including Chairman, CFO, HR Director and Property Director. Topics discussed were diverse: the importance of implementing a robust framework for “whole of life” employee management versus the lost art of Christmas cracker manufacturing. Reflecting on the summit, I wanted to pick out some key themes that seemed to resonate across more than one speaker or that had a particular buzz amongst the audience while being discussed.
Julie Kortens from Channel 4 opened the summit with a vibrant delivery of the story of the channel’s flagship headquarters building in Victoria which, when completed around 20 years ago, was a celebrated architectural masterpiece. However it soon became obvious that it was failure as a workplace and, as years went by, was increasingly a burden on employee creativity, morale and flexibility. But implementing change was not easy, and this wasn’t about budgets or technical limitations – egos got in the way, pre-conceptions (later proved false) limit people’s acceptance, old ways of thinking encourage a “can’t do” attitude. But a far better workplace did emerge and Julie clearly feels it is able to make a far bigger impact on company culture than HR, itself now increasingly focused on processes and compliance. This idea of outdated buildings holding back the potential of an organisation was also covered by Ian Campbell from Rolls-Royce. His honest appraisal of the issues faced by Rolls-Royce’s previous generation property portfolio centred on an outdated estate which had lacked investment due to cost pressure and short-sighted decision making over several decades. The poor quality of the workplace actually gave key decision makers the catalyst and drive for justifying significant capital investment, which in turn resulted in cost reduction as the new spaces were smaller, higher quality and more flexible. Hearing a success story about “spending to save” that results in an agile workplace and an overall lower cost is certainly worth listening to.
A recurring theme from the summit was the difficulty faced in implementing change in the corporate world. Almost all the speakers touched on this and each had stories of the people challenges around acceptance of change. Nigel Morland brought home the relevance to property by explaining how it’s all very well implementing agile workplaces but if you don’t have an agile mind-set from the staff impacted by the change then you will struggle to get the planned benefits. Indeed you could even be doing more damage than good by forcing through an agility agenda within the workspace. Encouraging adoption of change is not easy. Nigel explained how within Ashurst, a Law firm, new ways of thinking were encouraged by breaking down the traditional siloed functional desk allocations. Functional heads were encouraged to sit with other functions. Entire teams were ‘rotated’ to encourage new interactions between staff. Of course that in isolation is not enough. Organisational change is a tough nut to crack and typically requires a strong employee engagement to be in place first. One speaker referenced research by Gallup which highlights that only one in five British employees are “engaged” at work, which may have a link to the UK’s widening productivity gap versus other G7 nations. Only Italy performs below the UK in productivity amongst the G7.
Tapping into the zeitgeist, at least two speakers considered the changing nature of work as influenced by its increasing automation. Once you consider the nature of many office-based clerical roles, the “robot will take my job” does seem real in a number of roles which have a high demand for office real estate. This will no doubt have an impact on workplace design and occupancy rates and perhaps in as little as five to ten years. The BBC have a neat checker tool to provide a likelihood scoring on your job being replaced by an automated form of artificial intelligence. It seems that if you want job security the best profession to pursue is pub landlord. Another marketing phrase of the moment that seems to pop up all over the IT vendor-sphere is Big Data. The Quora summit was unable to escape its lure, but Nigel Morland gave a great example of the relevance of Big Data to the summit topic with the story of a leading Professional Services firm who are already embarking on analysing a wide range of employee and client behaviours to optimise their staff resources. The firm quoted the example of a finance specialist with key skills in a particular branch of work travelling from London to Manchester to work with a client on the same day that an similarly specialised peer from the Manchester office travels to London as an example of how analytics on who, where, when, can help improve resource efficiency, reduce costs and improve agility. When we bring the Big Data concept full circle back to improving workplaces, I’m pleased that (without too much marketing spin) Condeco can be counted as one of the key contributors to this emerging science. Our projects involving the installation of our Condeco Sense utilisation sensors into corporate offices are helping to introduce a step-change in the availability of high quality utilisation data. It’s this data that is equipping property decision makers with the information they need to introduce more agility in their workplaces, people and cultures.