How to construct a workplace for the future of work

Graham Lauren
Jun 7, 2017 · 9 min read

The why of constructing a workplace for the future of work

How to construct a workplace for the future of work is the challenge facing every practitioner concerned with the workplace’s future — owner, developer, occupier and designer alike. Their challenge in this and the future for knowledge architecture that defines it is the subject of this Medium site.

Knowledge architecture defines all that must surround the exchange of what is known, what can be created and what must be learned in creating the smart workplaces of the future.

Why think about how to construct a workplace for the future of work?

As a director of Shiro Architects in Sydney, Australia, this site is at this point far from focused on our current workload. But with our unique research, we are voting with our feet in building the business we wish to become.

Here, I explore my own interests in the increasing proliferation of strategic workplace choices available to businesses. We have arrived at a time when, through the incursions of new technologies, machine learning and the gig economy, workforces will necessarily shrink, and no longer demand the workplaces we have become accustomed to.

Beneath, I outline the rationale for a program of research I wish to conduct within Sydney, with at its heart the future of intelligent coworking as an economic stimulus.

As a journalist rather than an architect, I approach workplace strategy from my academic interest in the ways in which knowledge and learning can be best organised, transmitted and made sense of in organisations to create new value.

Workplace strategy may currently be inadequately defined. But it beyond doubt addresses the meeting of new forms of workspace, new technologies and new users in changing the way work is performed.

In the hyper-networked knowledge age, it is above all about integrating collaboration at the core of the worksphere, in its thinking, its design, and in work’s execution.

To date, I’ve written and published plenty about workplace strategy, and even chaired a panel discussion in March on the evolving place of work at the Total Facilities Conference at Sydney’s Darling Harbour International Conference Centre. (I’ve linked to some of my work beneath.)

The role of property in relation to work is no longer static, but increasingly strategic.

Growing understanding of how knowledge work must be enabled will create a spur of activity in the configuration of properties dedicated to those new ways of working.

This will be interesting to watch, because how its emerging experts construct a workplace for the future of work will become a deep and possibly defining competence for those able to pull it off.

Knowledge architecture lies at the centre of the workplace for the future of work

As I’ve written here, workplace strategy is no longer primarily a consideration of property or workplace change management. It is one concerned fundamentally with the design and delivery of work itself.

And it’s not just any work, but that conducted in “knowledge factories”, and how it is to be executed.

It is much more about strategy than workplace.

It is also likely that those who work in strategy will learn about workplace strategy much faster than those coming from selling the familiar square-metre solutions of physical workplace.

Property owners should be concerned that in their future battles over leases they are unlikely to be taking on the sorts of minds they are used to dealing with.

The argument is no longer over square metres and years.

The challenges for owners, agents and those representing large occupiers are largely the same: they must learn to accommodate something they have never, and which can’t be, clearly seen.

They will find this hard to understand, because in each circumstance, although it has a shape, it is completely different. Without the right mindset, it is also devilishly hard to discern and measure.

The challenge is to conceive of a future in which the workplace is about designing work itself around the knowledge that must be created and transferred, and not just the spaces in which it will take place.

Knowing how to construct a workplace for the future of work will rob its traditional rent-seekers

In the hands of those who are its future experts, workplace strategy stands to deprive the dominant property owners of their fat lunches because they will find it increasingly hard to impose themselves as the toll collectors at the gateway of productivity.

Yet, workplace strategy remains to be defined, such that it can be understood, taught and learned as a professional discipline, and applied to the work of the knowledge age.

Building a command of workplace strategy will be instrumental in facilitating knowledge flows across and within an increasingly digitised, often virtualised and remote workplace.

In parallel, in coworking lies a yet greater opportunity to liberate city properties for new workplace purposes against the current bottleneck of available CBD space at reasonable cost for new businesses.

In coworking lies a salvation for smart, young modern businesses, and my research indicates they like it.

Coworking is the workplace for the future of work

The days even of activity based working being at the centre of the discussion of about workplace strategy are numbered.

Workplace strategy’s former leading edge has been supplanted by coworking because these are spaces in which people want to work. They are not those in which they have to be coerced and cosseted to stay by large employers trying to lock in and milk talent.

This is the emerging battlefront for the businesses of incumbent landlords, in whose blood it is to want to lock customers into the longest lease term possible for the greatest amount of space.

The space-takers now occupying coworking spaces want precisely the opposite.

Coworking residents want to buy the smallest amount of space, a single desk for a month — or space-as-a-service — without commitments any longer than that month.

The inherent uncertainties of coworking’s unit of sale of a single desk per month and the complications of providing supporting services geared to the interests of a specific niche of customers does not fit the model of a typical incumbent property owner.

If they can’t understand how to manage it or how to make money from it, they are even less likely to encourage it.

A research proposal into constructing Sydney’s workplace for the future of work

I aim to establish modest funding for a structured program of workplace research in direct reinforcement of the City of Sydney’s goal to “support and create an environment that fosters collaboration and learning.”

There are probably many councils around the world with similar goals.

This work is designed to spur creation of the body of skills needed to define the appropriateness for purpose and quality of the city’s future workspaces.

This research is to be conducted among practitioners defining many of Sydney’s leading and most influential workplaces, with many of whom I am already connected through research I have conducted previously.

I have now interviewed over 50 Australian workplace leaders in some of the country’s best-known businesses.

In the knowledge age, the workplace environment must be shaped most appropriately around both the knowledge it contains and which it must create. As a solution to this growing challenge, coworking presents an antidote.

Echoing much of what I have written above and elsewhere, this research will support the institution of an emerging body of new professional knowledge, in “workplace strategy.”

Given proper study and attention, this can then be taught, learned and developed as a forward-thinking workplace management discipline across the City of Sydney.

With the support of the council, its embodiment will directly enhance Sydney’s international reputation as a leading progenitor and pioneer in new thinking about the workplace of tomorrow.

The act of making workspaces more appealing to workers can then be used in policy to spur the release of properties dedicated to the cost-effective application of coworking.

This research aims to establish new standards defining and rating the nature, quality and fitness for purpose of those coworking spaces.

The aim is to enhance city-wide the prospects both for improved in-space collaboration, and to provide graded quality of occupancy reassurances for their owners and small business occupants.

The net effect is to ensure that in a vibrant, innovative, collaborative city, work is better distributed, networked and accommodated within a growing multiplicity of diverse spaces better suited to its evolution and design.

The problem to be solved in constructing the workplace for the future of work

The influence of software industry start-ups has spurred the idea that work is now something that can be done from anywhere.

But irrepressible advances in technology and the incursions of machine learning and gig-economy thinking into the future of work suggest all cities will suffer a continuing shrinkage in the number of conventional jobs available.

As a leading progressive, technologically enabled urban centre, Sydney can best fight back to resolve this problem by attracting, connecting and nurturing the distributed strengths of the brains in its workforce.

This will happen most effectively by recognising, defining and nurturing the needed new thinking and expertise in the configurations of its workspaces.

Business leaders now recognise that if they are to enable collaboration regimes that drive faster innovation, they need “knowledge architectures” that stimulate new knowledge flows.

But, if people are to work together increasingly cost-effectively and productively, this also requires the premises in which to do so to be fit for purpose, as companies building new managerial workplace capabilities already tend to take less, and different kinds of space.

Currently in its infancy, the profession defining this expertise is waiting be built, broadened, documented and deepened.

The present experience suggests most startups want to reduce risk and buy workplace as a service rather than a commitment, as realising better space utilisation frees up cash.

As a city, Sydney, as others, needs to act on this understanding.

While learning how to manage better the nature of the existing workplace, the challenge is how to deliver that new service more effectively, more widely and with better controls for the quality of the small business workplace experience.

Links to my work related to the constructing the workplace for the future of work

To date, I’ve published the following in Australian third-party journals related to workplace strategy.

In The Urban Developer:

Beyond Activity Based Working

What Is Workplace Strategy, And Why Is It So Important?

Is Workplace Design Briefing Becoming Too Complex For Property Specialists Alone?

In the December 2016 print edition and on the web site of Facility Management magazine:

The Evolution of Workplace Strategy into a Discipline of FM

Background: What are my credentials?

Having published a piece on the subject of workplace strategy in the December-January print edition of the Australian Facility Management magazine (The Evolution of Workplace Strategy into a Discipline of FM), I was invited on March 29 to chair a panel at the Total Facilities Conference at Sydney’s Darling Harbour entitled, “Meeting the Demands of the Evolving Workplace.”

In this piece, attached and viewable at http://bit.ly/2n8fR39, I suggested that if we are to get the best out of the minds across the workplace, workplace strategy must be codified, taught and learned.

This is a challenge of “knowledge architecture” and of shaping workplaces around the knowledge they contain with the aim of creating new knowledge.

In the time since, I have been commissioned by a private party to research and write on coworking, and through that research now see that coworking is an essential ingredient in this new future.

Before becoming a director of Shiro Architects (my wife’s practice), I’d previously worked for many years as a business journalist for Fairfax Media’s Australian Financial Review newspaper group and for ACP Magazines (now Bauer Media).

I also have an MBA (Technology) from UNSW, Sydney, whose focus is on business strategy, managing technology-driven strategic and cultural change, innovation and organisational learning.

I became curious about what lies beyond activity based working and decided to research and write about it, and having now conducted more than 50 interviews on the subject with many prominent Australian workplace leaders, I believe I am contributing to shaping the knowledge of what workplace strategy is, and will become, in Australia.

Workplace strategy

Workplace strategy is where building design, modern technology and new ways of working come together to deliver the future of work. Shiro Architects’ research focuses on understanding how to create a better workplace-design briefing for the future occupants of commercial space.

Graham Lauren

Written by

Shiro Architects director and business writer, writing, reading and researching workplace strategy, learning organisations and knowledge architecture.

Workplace strategy

Workplace strategy is where building design, modern technology and new ways of working come together to deliver the future of work. Shiro Architects’ research focuses on understanding how to create a better workplace-design briefing for the future occupants of commercial space.

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