Summary: I’ve spent 2 days at Orgatec (Cologne), the leading trade show for office concepts and office furniture. The reason for that was the engagement of Tieto in the future_bizz initiative. I have decided to share my impressions of the show itself, some thoughts sparked by very interesting conversations and two panel discussions in the context of the show’s ‘Trendforum’. I will publish the article in three parts.

PART 1
My reflection on the trade show and what the future of work looks like from a ‘physical’ workspace perspective.

PART 2
My reflection on two panel discussions: ‘Enterprise 2.0’ and ‘Open Office Plans – Reality Check’

PART 3
future_bizz and some key work thesis and questions that derived from the first wave of the initiative.

PART 1
My reflection on the trade show and what the future of work looks like from a ‘physical’ workspace perspective.

To some extend one can get the impression that the industry for office concepts and furniture isn’t entirely sure – or at least has a pretty diverse perspective – what the future of work will look like…

There is no I in team…
That seems to be a subject what most vendors seem to pick up in order to address team orientated open space concepts. These are supposed to suit multiple situations that an information worker can be in during the day. For example:

  • actual team orientated work (collaboration space)
  • individual – undisturbed – work (productivity space; cocoons)
  • situation based gathering and communications (swarming space; stand-up concepts)
  • virtual meetings (video space solutions)

This has been a trend for a while now and a lot of companies have introduced (or are in the process of introducing) open plan offices to their employees. However, there seem to be the first studies that open office spaces (OOS) actually have a negative impact on productivity, quality of work and employee satisfaction. Even communications seems to suffer due to the vast amount of headphones used in an open office space. One presenter even emphasised the environmental and economic impact of OOS: they are neither green nor do they really save money. I have to admit that I was slightly surprised to see the extractions of respective studies.

…but there is a ME if you look hard enough.
Here comes the WOW. Even though the emphasis is to much on teams and the efforts on removing hierarchical borders I had the impression that status still is substantially reflected by office furniture. A lot of booths offered management and executive concepts that were breathtaking – in style but as well as in “differentiation”. Chairs, tables and all the other bells and whistles make crystal clear: I am the boss and I stand above you. I wasn’t really surprised that the studies referenced before even reveiled that the budget per square meter spent on an executive space is significantly higher than the one for the individual share in OOS concepts. I have to admit that I was rather shocked that a LOT of vendors still make sure that they find their entry through the bosses office to then position the “made for the troops” program as an up-sell.

Globalisation. Virtualisation. Decentralisation.
My third key take away was the impression that almost no vendors tend to address the work conditions of teams that simply don’t share any physical space. Yes, there are pretty neat concepts for video integration and the efforts to make video conferences less awkward. However, there still seems to be a long way to go to the actual symbiosis of physical and digital workspace as well as from substantial concepts to “glue together” virtual teams. In a conversation with a design head from a Canadian manufacturer this impression was actually confirmed, even though we both had to admit that we wouldn’t be able to just come up with a concept from the top of our heads.

The future of information work – Enterprise 2.0
Even a trade show that is designed around the physical workspace cannot deny the change that happens and the needs that derive from the quest to increased productivity and the (assumed) requests of the future generations. It was a key subject at the booths of bigger vendors and in panel discussions of the Orgatec Trendforum. Even though there seems to be some way to go until the future of physical and digital properly meet it’s at least very promising and exciting to see how things change. The emphasis to make the workspace a place where people like to come to and spend time at is very much in line with the trends in business IT. It’s not about forcing people to use applications anymore. It’s about designing work tools that employees like or even desire to use.

My personal take away for trade shows in general
Sometimes I get the impression that trade shows are the most “uniformal” and uncommunicative spaces ever. To show how serious we are we hide behind suits and dresses. The only “non verbal communication” are the little flags on the name tag. I have decided that whenever I will have the influence on the “dress code” I will make sure that people wear t-shirts with

  • talk to me about…
  • my name is…
  • my expertise is…

That would make it so much easier to a) find the right people at a booth (where you don’t know anyone yet) or even b) start conversations somewhere else. It would be a little bit like tagging people and making sure that the relevant ones “match”.

(…to be continued)

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