April 12, 2023 - As Rita Himid was booking the speakers for Crestron's next Modern Work Summit, she wanted to focus on three distinct elements: technology, places, and people. Himid — Crestron's marketing manager (EMEA) — explains: "We want to talk about the devices and solutions going into a space — that's clearly where our expertise lies at Crestron. But beyond that, we need to talk about how those spaces themselves are evolving to match the demands of a hybrid workforce and how the cultural elements of a business need to shift and adapt."
More specifically, the groups of sessions are themed around:
The speakers represent a broad array of disciplines, from Zoom's Senior Advisor Peter Sany to Workplace Health and Well-being Expert Brecht Buysschaert (Springbok) to authors and journalists. It's a group focused on staying ahead of the evolving trends of the modern workplace, including those outside Crestron's core mission as a tech innovator. As he noted in the press announcement for the two-day event, Crestron's EVP of Marketing Brad Hintze says, "The shift to hybrid and its growing popularity as a mainstay in today's workforce has expanded that perspective to include every aspect of a workspace beyond just the digital tools."
"Unworking: The Reinvention of the Modern Office."
Phillip Ross, founder and CEO of UnGroup (a consortium of businesses that include Ungroup, Unwired, Unwork, and Cordless group), will present a keynote that goes to the heart of the issue, "Unworking: The Reinvention of the Modern Office." The concepts he'll share mirror his company's charter: "The mission for UnGroup is to be thought leaders in shaping the new world of work, including the impact of new technology on the behavior of people and the use of buildings."
A central premise of shaping that new world, says Ross, is abandoning "old habits and rituals" that some companies are hanging on to even after the pandemic shifted work. "I think we still see too many in-person meetings or internal meetings. Many companies still hold onto this old way of working, even when remote communication technology is readily available. This may be due to the belief that in-person meetings are more productive, or that leadership felt as though they have a lack of control over remote workers."
"Companies need to opt into the 'connect don't commute' approach. Do we need to be in a central business district in a world where we have ubiquitous connectivity, from broadband in the home to Wi-Fi on the High Street? The growth of the connected, polycentric city has a big impact on people's movement patterns, as the traditional commute gives way to more permeable working styles that avoid the traditional '9 to 5'."
Relearning How We Learn
"Pre-pandemic, it was almost unthinkable to work productively anywhere but the office," says Ross, but the preponderance of hybrid working has, of course, changed that perception. That includes onboarding new hires — and continuing their training. "One of the challenges of 'relearning learning' is that employers are often very eager to bring people back in the office because there has been an existing model of training where junior members of the team shadow or 'eavesdrop' on senior staff, often in an open plan space. Increasingly, as we move into a hybrid world, that model is looking dated, and there are technologies emerging that are developing new ways of learning virtually."
That doesn't mean that the in-office experience should become completely obsolete. "Bringing everyone into the office can be good for social capital. Still, it's the responsibility of employers to take the new technological opportunities that are going to be open to us and understand how they will impact and benefit both C-suite and lower-level staff," says Ross.
In addition to the explosion of virtual collaboration tools, Ross is closely monitoring generative AI. "Artificial intelligence and ChatGPT have been controversial topics for a while now," he notes. "We are seeing skills and technology change, and workers are left behind. Generative AI is destined to become the overlay for not only search engines but also creative work, writing, and research.
"It will remake and reimagine the modern workplace, as your work future could depend on how well you can talk to AI."
"The Power of &"
Another of the keynote speakers for the event is author Andreas Ekström, whose presentation "The Power of &" is part of the "People Factors" subset. While Ekström is often billed as a "futurist," he has a different preferred term for what he does: "I call myself a journalist that reports on things that haven't happened yet." What is happening, though, is how the digital revolution is impacting people — that's what Ekström's focused on.
He's got a particular catchphrase that pops up on his website: "Everything's changed. Nothing's different." "That was the mindset that I tried to bring into the pandemic because I would do training sessions, I would do educational seminars, I would conduct interviews." Ekström gestures around the room as he speaks via videoconference. "We would have to meet like this. I built this nice little home studio here, and after I got going, and just thought that it's still about the ideas, it's still about the conversation, it's still about the content. The rest is just tools."
Unfortunately, however, those tools can lead to bad behaviors. It worries Ekström that the internet is full of apps — "middlemen," as he calls them — that are controlled by a very few, very powerful group of individuals. Ekström's keynote at the Modern Work Summit is intended to help us ask the right — and often difficult — questions to help us understand just what's happening to us when we're constantly online.
Thinking in "Grayscale"
"Despite all of the polarizations across the globe, there are positives: the world literacy rate is at its highest, the world's child mortality rate is at its lowest, the world's general level of income and living standards at the highest that it's ever been," says Ekström. All of that has been helped by the digital revolution — the ability to instantly communicate and share information. "So, let's have some confidence in ourselves — and let's make sure we know where the power lies, which is the journalistic question to always ask."
Ekstrom's keynote will be broken down into three parts itself: "I try to look at the macro picture first." That macro picture includes looking at the biggest differences in worldviews that present themselves. He then drills down into personal disagreements — conflicts that prevent productive discussions.
"And then, finally, I try to present some decision-making tools," he says. "Here are some different ways to think. That might make us feel that the situation with a new workplace, the new political landscape, the new consumer landscape, might be a little less daunting. And to do that, I think we need to reclaim the ability to say, 'Yes, and?' — it's the ability to think in grayscale and move away from the black and white that is currently dominating our mode of thinking."