5 Things We Learned at the Agile Workplace Conference

Key takeways from AgilQuest’s annual conference.

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Photo by Erin Kelleher.

AgilQuest’s sixth annual Agile Workplace Conference — “Workplaces That Innovate” — took place Tuesday, September 13 in Washington, D.C., with speakers focusing on the many forms of innovation that spur (and are spurred by) the evolving workplace.

“The workplace can, and should be, a breeding ground for innovation as creative people come together to work, share ideas, and collaborate to solve problems every day,” the group said in a press release. “It takes all types of people and perspectives to approach current workplace challenges and solve for today’s workplace issues, whether it’s through design solutions, technology, policies, or embracing a culture of new workplace behaviors.”

Below, check out five of the new ideas we took away from the people and perspectives shared at AWC 2016.

John Vivadelli, CEO of AgilQuest, welcomes conference attendees. Photo by Erin Kelleher.

John Vivadelli, CEO of AgilQuest, welcomes conference attendees. Photo by Erin Kelleher.

  1. People need choice.

“People are 80 percent of your cost and 100 percent of your revenue,” said John Vivadelli, CEO of AgilQuest, in his opening remarks. “You’ve got to give them choice; you’ve got to engage them.”

He shared that he’d sat with a conference delegate from PricewaterhouseCoopers at the opening dinner for the conference on the previous evening, and asked his tablemate why employees at PwC go to work. The answer? “Freedom and flexibility.”

“And that’s the ‘why’ for AgilQuest, and for this conference,” he said. “We want to build a community of likeminded people who can share, use, and enjoy the place they work.”

Attendees listen to Jeremy Neuner's keynote address. Photo by Erin Kelleher.

Attendees listen to Jeremy Neuner’s keynote address. Photo by Erin Kelleher.

  1. We’re on the cusp of a once-in-a-lifetime shift in how, where, and why we work.

In the keynote, “Exploring a New Definition of Entrepreneurship”, Jeremy Neuner, a product area lead for real estate and workplace services at Google, shared his perspective on the future of the workplace.

“I believe our society and economy are on a once-in-a-lifetime cusp of a shift in how, where, and why we work,” he said. “Ten years ago there were zero coworking space on the planet. Now there are over 10,000.”

“It’s not about the space,” he said. “It’s about the people,” pointing out that some 53 million people in the U.S. alone make a living at least part of the time as an independent worker.

“We’ve discovered something that’s been lost in our industrial economy,” he said. “We’re hard-coded to be entrepreneurs. We’re hard-coded for community and collaboration.”

Neuner defines an entrepreneur by “anyone who seeks to give or get something from ‘the perspective of the many’ so that they can make a living and a life on their own terms.”

And entrepreneurs, he said, are the pioneers of this shift in how, where, and why we work.

Gensler's Janet Pogue McLaurin. Photo by Erin Kelleher.

Gensler’s Janet Pogue McLaurin. Photo by Erin Kelleher.

3. There’s no significant difference in workspace preference by generation.

In “The Innovation Ecosystem: Findings from Gensler’s 2016 U.S. Workplace Survey”, Janet Pogue McLaurin, a workplace sector leader and principal at Gensler, turned heads when she shared that in findings from the firm’s 2016 survey of over 4,000 U.S. office workers, there was no notable difference in the types of workspace the survey takers preferred (private offices, shared offices, high panels, low panels, benching in the open, etc.) based on generation.

A more important differentiator in workspace preference is how innovative the individual survey takers’ companies rank. According to the report, “Companies ranked as innovative by their employees are five times more likely to foster workplaces that prioritize” a variety of different ways to work.

“Employees at innovative companies have better designed and functional workspaces, no matter how open,” said McLaurin.

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MAYA Design’s Kristi Woolsey. Photo by Erin Kelleher.

  1. You conceptualize better under ceilings over 10 feet high.

We loved this one. In one of the first breakout sessions, “Designing Culture: Behavioral Strategy for the Workplace”, Kristi Woolsey, practice lead, creative environments at MAYA Design shared how organizations can use behavioral science to design a workplace culture that supports creativity, collaboration, and innovation.

The ceiling height tidbit is revelatory in terms of how much our spaces affect us, and not in the ways that get the most press (i.e., open vs. closed). Previously, we might have told you “open to conceptualize, closed to focus”, but that’s not the whole story. More likely, in a space — open or closed — with a ceiling over 10 feet high, your ideas will soar.

“If it’s under eight feet,” Woolsey added, “we focus better.”

  1. The workplace industry has the power to create space to unlock human potential.

At Google, Neuner is responsible for delivering people-focused workplace experiences, where, he said, “it’s not about the space, but the people in the space.”

And if you want to support the growth and development of the people in your space, Neuner said freedom and flexibility are non-negotiable.

“For perhaps the first time in human history, we have the chance to align our economic development with our human development,” he said. “If you want to unlock human potential, you have to give people freedom.”

This freedom, by the way, is driven largely in part by mobile smartphones, which Neuner pointed out is “the most rapidly adopted technology in the history of the human species.”

“We — [the workplace industry] — have the power to create space to unlock human potential,” he said.

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