What will the workplace look like in 2035? At this year’s Workplace Trends Conference as well as attending as a delegate we ran an interactive element termed the ‘Future Wall’. The exercise aimed to gather future workplace insights from people who design and plan our work spaces.
Themes from the 2019 London conference
The nature of Workplace Trends conferences are aptly described by the title. They are relatively small events, well run, with a high quality of speakers and an appreciative audience of some 200+ delegates.
We attended this event for the third year in a row, aware that on previous occasions we’d heard more seasoned attendees remark that they’d found they cover the same ground year on year. We don’t find that a let-down. Afterall, trends emerge, surge or dwindle over their own timescales. They stick around, maybe pushing on to be the predominant thing, or bump along being mere incidental factors, or rocket to the top of the agenda and change everything for good. You never can tell, so it’s best to accept this and appreciate subtle signals rather than expect enlightenment.
Our in-a nutshell take-away this year was humanisation in the face of digitisation. In other words, the need to increasingly weigh up and appropriately apply the efficiencies that technology delivers while countering its negative impact by ensuring that people feel part of and engaged in something meaningful at a community, group and individual level. They should be able to create and control their own work environment, whilst retaining a connection with others and nature in doing so.
Our nutshell takeaway doesn’t of course do justice to some really excellent and inspiring talks and case study inputs.
Future workplace wall
As a break from convention, this year we had the opportunity to run what we called a Futures Wall, where we invited delegates to post their insights about the future of the workplace, as a basis for a sense making exercise.
We all have a level of desire and ability to empathise and communicate. It’s part of how we have evolved to survive as humans. Matthew Liebermann wrote about this in his book “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Connect” You can also see his TED talk on the key themes of the book.
This was a valuable way of gathering diverse intuitions of what the future workplace holds, picking up “signals from the future” as a counter and complement to the more data and research based format that the main conference provides. What emerged from the futures wall perhaps signals less of a trend and a more rapid, dramatic change as a consequence of the present environmental, digital and political emergencies.
Generating the ideas
We invited people attending the conference to drop by and post their ideas about the future of work, in response to the question: what does the workplace look like in 2035?
We used one of our ThinkingWall Dividers as the wall surface, a double sided magnetic whiteboard on wheels. This whiteboard wall is great for collaboration. It has plenty of space to work through different ideas and allow more than one person to write at the same time. We asked people to write their thoughts on Magnotes. These are dry wipe magnetic notes that are a more robust and reuseable version of a sticky note. You can easily move Magnotes around into clusters and columns to encourage fluid organisation of ideas.
The concept of collecting input at the conference took a little time to get going. Perhaps people were wary of being judged for their contributions; certainly not the case as it was all anonymous. The spirit behind it was very much to create a level playing field where all ideas were welcome. As Kilian Keller of Electrolux said in his opening talk, after sitting for 2 hours the oxygen flow to your brain is reduced to 65%. We at least made the most of the break and corresponding brain power boost that standing up brings!
Insights about the future workplace
This was a realtime look at what insights people have about their future working environment, stimulated by being at the conference and hearing some lively presentations from people whose job it is to design for the future.
We can see the response to current concerns around climate change, work life balance, remote working and technological change. If we string together the headings of the clusters to form a story, we can interpret it like this:
By 2035, as humanity finally responds to the shattering impact of climate change, our definition of work changes and new possibilities emerge. Those changed expectations drive structural changes in corporations. As people exercise their freedom to make personal choices, the balance between real and virtual contacts shifts to make work more wholesome. Workplaces embrace life-long needs and technology is serving people – not the other way around. As people increasingly work in networked co-creative groups, we begin to re-discover the joys of being human.
You can download a pdf copy of the futures wall outcomes.
Create your own version
Our intepretation of the contributions is deliberately positive to reflect the proactive intentions of the conference. It is equally possible to view the ideas from another standpoint, which could be much more pessamistic.
If seeing the results has sparked more ideas, you might like to try adding to or reorganising the hexagons yourself. You can download a free trial copy of the Logovisual Capture Software we used to recreate the Future Wall. Once you have done this, download the futures wall LVC data file. We’d be delighted if you shared the outcome with us so we can keep adding to the collective vision.
About the methodology
The methodology we employed is called Logovisual Thinking. In this case people wrote their insights on magnetic shapes (Magnotes) posted on a dry-wipe magnetic surface (ThinkingWall). We organised the ideas into clusters and then gave a summary heading to each cluster. What, at first glance, looks like categorising and labelling is actually much more subtle and profound. It is algebra of the mind – a process of abstraction from the detail to facilitate higher-level thinking. The method has multiple applications. In addition to problem solving, it is especially useful for engaging people in articulating their sense of purpose, shared visions and strategies for change.