Back to the future: Cathy at WorkTech

I got my first mobile phone when I was 22. My first laptop when I was 26. First logged onto a WiFi network when I was 27. Now 15 years later, these are the tools I use every day. But my children are already leaps and bounds ahead of me – aged 8, 10 and 15 they’ve grown up with iphones, ipads, ubiquitous WiFi and information at their fingertips. It’s easy to feel a little out of touch.

And that’s how I felt at times at Worktech London this week. I haven’t been to what’s always been considered the leading workplace technology event,  for a few years, and it showed. Back in 2014, we were talking about how WiFi was allowing us to work wherever and whenever we wanted, and how tools like the Jellybean could indicate to colleagues what we were doing when we weren’t in front of them.

The debate has moved on a little. While there was still discussion about open-plan offices being great for collaboration but not for concentration (yawn), there was also more interesting debate about the technology being used to track collaboration and space utilisation. While desk sensors are increasingly prevalent, tools such as apps on phones which track where people are in a building and who they’re talking to, are raising privacy eyebrows but are providing much-needed data about how and where people work and who they interact with.

Encouraging better collaboration across the business was the focus of several discussions with research showing that well-networked teams are the most successful. The water cooler used to be the focus for serendipitous meetings, and there was agreement that the number of coffee machines in a business is reflective of how networked it is (the fewer the coffee machines, the greater the chance of quality collaboration).  But technology, not just coffee, has a role to play in how collaborative we are. My favourite innovation is a lift which drops you off at a random floor of a hot-desking office each day based on an algorithm which shows who you haven’t yet collaborated with. Big Brother meets Hogwarts.  Another innovation discussed was a laptop that can tell when you’re in a state of flow and will ‘hold’ all incoming email and messages allowing you to work mindfully. Bliss.

What’s clear is that while a few years ago technology and business were, as one speaker described, like saltwater and freshwater – easily separated – they are now like freshwater from adjoining lakes – inextricably linked. At a time of considerable flux for the property sector – several speakers discussed how the move to flexible, serviced office space (the Airbnb of office space) will increase to about 30% of the market over the next decade – one certainty is that technology and workplace will become even closer bedfellows. Which means I won’t be leaving it so long to go back to Worktech.

Ben Keeley