Smart spaces & places

A blog brought to you by Chris Kane 

Author: https://twitter.com/SimonHeath1

Dublin’s Croke Park, one of Europe’s largest sport’s stadiums, has seen plenty of sporting action in its 105-year history. Known to the locals as ‘The Croker’, on Wednesday it played host to another landmark event for Ireland, perhaps without the thrills and spills of the sporting arena, but equally stimulating – Ireland’s first ever summit on the workplace. Bringing together people from all over the world under one roof to discuss the integration of ‘People, Place and Technology’ in the workplace.

Aside from my obvious interest in the subject, the Croke Park conference centre was the ideal setting to get an update on current thinking in the workplace especially in an Irish context. It was also striking to see how a wide variety of speakers both local and international brought a very unified perspective to the audience.  As the day went on, it was clear that there is much shared ground between the professions dealing with people and place, the common themes included the need to understand attitudes, behaviours and most of all culture.  For me, personally this supported my long-held view of building bridges of understanding between People and Place. I came away with lots of insight which I can use with the other part of my life that of applying place making to the regeneration of Belfast Waterside.

Speakers who ranged from representatives from food and facilities management giant Sodexo, Dubai’s Burj Al-Khalifa and Mall, the UAE’s facilities management Emaar Group and the REWS Manager of Google’s EMEA team; in addition to futurists and influencers in the field of work and the workplace. George Muir a fellow Six Ideas member, kicked off the event with a striking view about the huge changes taking place.  Looking around it was great to see an audience who engaged wholeheartedly in the speakers’ presentations, taking away their message, but also discussing the various topics raised. It was quite a broad range:  from what the nature of work may look like, not just in 3 to 5 years, but what is happening now and in the very near future; to how the facilities management sector is changing to embrace its role as a key player in the provision of workplaces. It was interesting to note that those involved in the world of HR and ‘people issues’ found a lot of common ground when discussing these subjects. However, it was remarkable to hear those coming from the pure property sector also admitting that they may need to consider shifting their perspective from looking at buildings on a rent per square foot basis to charging for space per desk.

It was a day filled with great moments and observations and some of the highlights included how technology is being harnessed to drive down the costs of operating the Burj Khalifa. The Google input gave us a really useful summary of how CRE and FM should think about their roles in supporting their enterprises – the REWS team aims to deliver both services and spaces that enable Google to thrive. It’s not just about the design of the space and places, but it’s also about servicing them to encourage casual collisions, frictionless encounters whilst paying attention to providing healthy workplaces which are sustainable – the big surprise here was that the ubiquitous beanbag is off the agenda at Google!

For those who needed to understand how to create effectual workplaces, Neil Usher the author of ‘The Elemental Workplace’, considered the Bible for effective working design, presented us with his six key elements the key ingredients for a high performing workplace. We also heard calls for a more logical approach for how buildings are produced.  In short, that they should all be developed with the end-user in mind. George Harold pointed out how important it is for those who will operate the facility to have input into the design of a building. Furthermore, the FM team should be consulted from the very start, something which is patently very logical, but does not form common practice in the UK today.

Another interesting observation came from Euan Semple, a leading influencer in the ever-changing field of digital technology.  This was for the need to be cognisant of “the perils of professionalism”. How we can all be anchored in the professions we belong to and even be pigeonholed within them. Given all that is happening with the changing nature of work and its rapid evolution, maybe it’s time for the professional bodies to have a rethink?

All of these opinions and viewpoints were balanced by a recognition that it’s important to take time out to stop and think. Whilst place is important one cannot ignore the human dimension particularly the importance of a proper approach to inclusivity and diversity. Margot Slattery used her personal life journey to hammer home the need to consider the human dimension when we consider the built environment.  This prompted some really thought-provoking discourse into how we perceive things: what is facility management (FM)? What is corporate real estate (CRE)? What is the workplace? All this was taken in the context of how we engage as human beings and for the first time ever at a conference the very pertinent and significant topic of social justice was on the table.

All in all, the day provided lots of fascinating insights and healthy debate provided by this eclectic and hugely entertaining range of speakers. The key feature being that relationships were formed and others were rekindled.  However, all around there was a sense that we had the common bond of doing our best to provide sustainable and beneficial working propositions in a very fast-moving and changing environment. This was illustrated brilliantly by the highly talented wandering ‘artistic’ troubadour Simon Heath, as seen in the sketch accompanying this blog post.

As I chaired the day in this landmark setting of Croke Park, I couldn’t help but think, was there a seismic shift taking place? Were we witnessing more evidence of a “moving of mindsets”? There was a certain sense of satisfaction to see this happening in this great arena which was steeped in such remarkable sporting achievements and inspired record-breaking.

As somebody who has always been keen and propagated the convergence of work, the workforce and the workplace and having the honour and pleasure to chair the first conference in Ireland to centre on the three key areas of workplace – People, Place and Technology. I was particularly heartened to hear a participant comment that it was a ‘Gathering of Placemaking Wizards’!