There needs to be a radical rethink about offices and cities – that was the overriding theme at the recent WORKTECH Unworking Conference that took place in London.
Inspired by the insights shared by WORKTECH Director Jeremy Myerson and Chairman Philip Ross in their seminal work, Unworking: The Reinvention of the Modern Office, the forum delved into topics such as the future of city living and working, sustainable workplaces, and the disruptive forces shaping work as we know it.
A standout of the event was the keynote speech by Ricky Burdett, a distinguished author and Professor of Urban Studies at LSE. Burdett explored the dynamics of urban change, its influence on well-being, and the social and cultural fabric of work. He also shed light on the declining global investment in office and retail spaces in cities.
Taking back the streets
Burdett emphasised the urgent need for a paradigm shift in our cities and the creation of new models. He challenged the prevailing city plans of lifeless streets and described an intriguing concept – the “playground city” envisioned by architect Carlo Ratti and economist Edward Glaeser. This vision incorporates multi-use neighbourhoods, fostering vibrancy and inclusion.
Expanding on these themes in a subsequent panel discussion, Sir Stuart Lipton, a renowned property developer, questioned the continued construction of office towers and advocated transforming existing ones into places that seamlessly blur the boundaries between the interior and exterior. Lipton, echoing Burdett’s sentiments, called for cities to regain their sense of fun, with social areas, village greens, town squares and vibrant communities.
Building on these ideas, WORKTECH Associate Director Imogen Privett delved into the notion of magnetising employees back to the workplace and supporting them throughout the day. She proposed forward-thinking concepts such as sensitivity rooms for menopausal women experiencing hot flushes and areas tailored to the needs of neurodiverse individuals. Privett championed the radical reimagining of the office, exploring the possibility of utilising these spaces 24/7 for social purposes when they are empty.
The smart way
With a strong focus on human-centric design and its profound impact on well-being, Matthew Marson, Managing Director, EMEA Advisory at JLL Technologies and Will Readshaw, Director of Intelligent Buildings at Arcadis UK, extolled the virtues of smart technology.
Marson stated that sustainability is back on the agenda following COVID. He argued smart technologies can play a pivotal role in supporting it, albeit paradoxically, as when offices become healthier, energy consumption tends to increase. However, by leveraging plugins, artificial intelligence and analytics, building facilities can be optimised based on real-time usage data and adjusting HVAC systems accordingly.
Readshaw expanded on this notion, highlighting the integration of air quality sensors with ventilation systems as a means to enhance productivity. He also underscored the need for more mobile furniture in office environments, enabling rooms to be closed off to conserve energy when unoccupied.
The workplace, a bastion of tradition for decades, has experienced rapid and transformative change in recent years and it’s evident the time has come to shed outdated habits and beliefs.