Workplace 2030 (or is it really still Workplace 1930?)

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Who predicted coworking? Who thought that health and wellbeing would have such a systemic impact on workplace design?

Well, we did, to be honest. To a degree, at least. The reality is that the ever-changing world of workplace transformation is, indeed, everchanging. Just not that rapidly! Think about it; Google’s first groundbreaking workplaces were first conceived in the last century (and, by the way, they worked for Google – just not for those businesses looking to replicate the model). Similarly, Frank Duffy and DEGW’s vision for the future office wowed people back in the 1990s. Today, we’re still seeing a lot of those ideas embraced in ‘forward thinking’ projects. And they still work for a lot of organisations.

Furthermore, we saw businesses start to adopt business lounge ideology for their client meetings. As those original business lounges have evolved, so the corporate world has followed. Revolutionary? Not really.

However, a look at the case study features in this issue will show that things do continue to change and innovation is very much alive and well.

Cultures continue to shift at a similar rate to technology, while the physical space often lags behind. There is now a new breed of business leader who has a very different view from those who are now in the 50s. So what is the next big thing – and who is going to come up with it?


The Discussion

Working with our wonderful sponsors, Specialist Joinery Group, we’ve gathered together a panel of industry experts at Investec’s fantastic London headquarters to discuss where the workplace is likely to be heading in the next 10 or so years. In line with our intro, however, we begin by reflecting what has really changed in the world of workplace in the past 20 years.

Kevin: There are key things that we’ve changed in the past 20 years. We’ve broken the desk tether – so no longer are we tied to our desks. Then there’s exponential resilience on technology – does anyone remember Y2K when the whole world was going to come to an end? We’re relying on the cyber security systems even more now, which we have to put in place to stop other people from taking our platforms down. Information is more readily available – we can even tap into apps now to do the work that we used to do. We’ve increased the campus sizes of the large corporates, who have sprawled and consolidated – and are now sprawling again. Then there is the gig economy, zero hour contracts, renewable energy – we had our first wind farms back in 1991 but have only really started to make that work in the last 20 years – while the attitude towards workplace has changed thanks to the tech companies. Then there is inflation – the price of beer 20 years ago was £1.98!


Brian: Can we also look back at what hasn’t changed? Work is people gathering together with some kind of common purpose, and that hasn’t changed – and never will change. The physical proximity of people coming together to achieve something, tables and chairs, whatever that looks like – that’s the constant. All the other things – artificial intelligence, technology, virtual working, sustainability, wellness – nibble away at this, but fundamentally work and workplace has not changed since Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Larkin Building in Buffalo in 1927.

Nic: If you ask the question, ‘Why do we even come to work? Why do we all come to this one place?’ Despite people bemoaning their commutes, this is the one thing that will stick – and it can be difficult to answer those questions at times. Personally, and I know this is probably not the proper thing to say – and I do genuinely embrace technology – but the experience of Skype and those types of technologies is just miserable.

Brian: That could get better – and will get better.


Nic: I know it will get better but I don’t like the experience – and I’m not even sure why I don’t like it. I do know that I want to be with people. We’re social beings. The reason the human race is so popular is that we’re able to organise ourselves into groups in order to achieve things. When you think about it, one of the greatest punishments in prisons is to be isolated – that’s considered to be one of the worst things you can administer to someone. There is a need for people to come together.

Ian: All of the technology we use to communicate hasn’t diminished the amount of business travel that still goes on. I have a good friend who works for one of the big business travel companies and he thought that the advent of Skype and improvements in technology for video conferencing would have a massive impact on his business – but it has not changed things. Nothing can replace people getting on a plane, making that effort – even if it is for just a short time – and meeting people face-to-face. You can’t replace social interaction.

Anu: The USP of WeWork is really about connecting people and communities – and now a lot of corporates are also starting to look at that as a possible model.


Nic: You’re right – it’s all about bringing people together. Actually, if you look at a WeWork floorplan, it’s the same as a Regis floorplan – it’s just lots of little boxes!

Brian: I think there will be little incremental changes – and video conferencing will get better and people will be able to work remotely, which is great, and we will be able to form teams and work across time zones and continents – but this will never replace the workplace. WeWork can obviously see this. Those billions that are being invested is an investment in an understanding that people still have to get together.

Adam: We used to talk about 2020 being some landmark date – I don’t know what happened to that! I remember there being a big fanfare about 2020 as being some kind of line in the sand – a divide between the past and the future of workplace. 2020 is now months away – and I don’t think anything really has changed. People still go to their office, they still sit on a task chair, with a computer and a desk. Then they go to a meeting and whether that’s physical or digital, they still take notes with either an iPad or a pen…so really the function of work hasn’t changed since people first came together in larger quantities to do mainly mundane tasks inside rather than outside. Of course, things have changed around the outside of all this – and I think Brian put that really well. I don’t think that’s going to change. Community is the only real reason people get up in the morning. The financial aspect of going to work is less important now than the purpose or the community – and those things really need people to come together. I think that HR is a bigger driver in workplace than either design or technology. We have to remember that most people who go to work every day sit in a really bad office. We’re lucky that we’re connected to London or Paris or Manchester, where people have choice and have great places to work – but this is the tip of the iceberg. The world that we all live in is alien to most people. Maybe the biggest change is that people don’t want a 9-to-5 anymore and businesses have to be adaptable.


Tahera: For me, you need to combine emotional intelligence with the social interaction – that’s what we should be focusing on more right now. Social interaction is of course a good thing – but it needs to be the right social interaction within a workplace. We have people here who have little EQ but are very intelligent – and we don’t always get that bit right. So you can have the best workplace but, in my view, if you don’t have that EQ then the standard of the workplace means nothing.

Ciaran: There is a balance between EQ and IQ in every workplace. I appreciate that Investec’s business is on a global scale, but even in our firm (we’ve 220 staff) we have to work hard to create an inclusive culture, which makes room for everyone to perform at the highest level. We have a real mix of great people. We’ve found that, over the last four years in particular, because we’ve invested so much in community days, team building and staff development, we have been able to help our team develop exponentially. It’s about bringing people along on a journey. We want to retain our staff – so we try to see the world through their eyes. It looks very different for people, therefore – as an employer, a designer, a contractor – you’ve got to create workplaces and management structures with this flexibility and ease of adjustment in mind.


Kevin: I’ve actually got mixed views on this. I’ve got two sons – one is 24 and one is 20 – and they are very different in their approaches. The 24-year old totally embraces working collaboratively – his whole group has embraced working closely together, collaboratively. The 20-year old is studying aeronautical engineering and they do pretty much everything remotely. They do everything through a screen, they are spread around different parts of the country and they are looking at various engineering solutions in this way. I think we’re seeing a new generation coming through that is very adept at and very happy to work remotely. They don’t look for the social interaction that I did – or even the slightly older generation did. I think something happened just between those four years.

Anu: We all come from a particular generation and all of our views and our assumptions are that this will carry on. I work with a lot of millennials and even the generation that follows them – and their views on life, work, what’s important to them is very different from my generation, for sure. The way we manage is based on what we’ve seen from generations before us – and that’s having an impact on every other generation. Right now we’re seeing four generations in the same workplace, so we shouldn’t just look at it from our perspective. If we were to have younger people in charge, I’m sure they’d have a different outlook.

Brian: I’m not so sure it’s all about a generational divide – it’s more about the different personalities involved.


Tahera: I agree. We talk about designing workplaces for different generations, but I know that there are days, and I know my colleagues here feel the same, when I want to come in to work and have a laugh and a bit of banter – and then there are days when I want to be quiet and reflective. That’s just a human thing.

Adam: The generational thing is just marketing nonsense. There’s always been different generations in our workplaces. The differences are that now, because people have to work longer, there is a greater spread of generations.

Brian: Actually, the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace is the older generation. This isn’t about millennials – it’s about the aging workforce. The challenge is to design for diverse personality types and different generations – but the major challenge is designing for personality types.



Given the nature of this discussion, should we have attempted to do this whole session via Skype? Absolutely not – and we’re 100% sure our esteemed guests would agree with us. It’s fascinating to see that much of the afternoon’s conversation centred around the fact that, fundamentally, the physical workplace has not changed over the past couple of decades – and is unlikely to change greatly in the next decade. What really has changed is workplace culture (particularly in our major cities) and attitudes. A one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t cut the mustard in 2019 – and certainly won’t work for businesses come 2030. Technology will continue to push boundaries – but will it push us off our task chairs? We’ll just have to wait and see.


Our Guests


Adam Strudwick, Principal, HLW International

Adam is a Principal at HLW, leading the studio and working on projects across Europe, with a global focus on design technology. Adam aims to do good work for good people.


Tahera Hammond, Global Head of Workplace, Investec

Tahera is a workplace professional responsible for a global portfolio spanning five continents, covering 250,000 sq ft for 1,100 colleagues. Tahera is passionate about providing a positive and memorable (for the right reasons!) experience to all those who interact with Investec Asset Management offices and ensuring the company’s workplaces feature in strategic discussion as a forethought.


Kevin Mulligan, MD, BW: Workplace Experts

Kevin is the newly appointed Managing Director at BW Interiors. He brings with him 6.5 million sq ft of multidiscipline fit-out experience on behalf of main contractors and a global Investment bank. Kevin’s success is credited to ATD and collaborative delivery of many of the most complex schemes seen in the UK. Work/life balance? Afraid not although he is a skipper who competes in offshore/transatlantic sailing races.


Brian Szpakowski, MD, IA Interior Architects

Brian has a 25-year career in workplace design, working with Michael Brill, Gensler, Pringle Brandon and Broadway Malyan. He is currently Managing Principal for the London studio of IA Interior Architects, the world’s largest architectural practice dedicated solely to interior design. Brian has been responsible for the design and delivery of numerous workplace projects around the world.


Nic Pryke, Design Director, Oktra

Over the past 30 years, Nic has gone from cabinet maker to Design Director of a leading workplace design and build firm. He understands the value in this area of interior design, as it has such an impact on people’s lives and how they work. Every day Nic continues to be impressed by his design team’s innovation, creativity and ability to produce unrivalled concepts.


Ian Morrow, Construction Director, Mace

Ian is the newly appointed Construction Director at the international consultancy and construction company, Mace. Having held senior positions at BW and Overbury, he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this role.


Anu Chatterjee, Director, AECOM

Anuradha is an interior designer with commercial acumen and creative flair. Entering the industry after being a leader in business for 15 years, she comes with bags of client experience and pragmatism. Trained as a management scientist and then an interior designer, Anu is able to execute design ideas with precision and rigour. A strong communicator, she has a passion to co-create with clients, suppliers and team members to create exceptional spaces.


Ciaran O’Hagan, Managing Director, Specialist Joinery Group

Ciaran is the Managing Director of family business, Specialist Joinery Group, a bespoke joinery and fitted furniture contractor that specialises in workplace strategy and luxury projects across Europe. He is obsessive about client experience and product quality, and really enjoys staying involved in projects from concept to completion. Ciaran has a passion for farming and good shoes – they can take you anywhere!