The first annual conference was hosted by the Center for Workplace Innovation at the Innovation and Design Building in Boston.
At a time when only 30 percent of employees feel fully engaged in work — costing businesses $500 billion per year — and when millennials are willing to take almost $8,000 less per year to experience a better work-life, it’s crucial to apply cross-disciplinary design thinking to improve the workplace.
On November 3rd, the Center for Workplace Innovation at Design Museum Foundation, held its first annual Workplace Innovation Summit, a major gathering of thought leaders and experts representing over 100 companies from a variety of industries.
The event took place at the newly renovated Innovation and Design Building in Boston, and was organized around the intersection of three high-level topics: culture, innovation, and the built environment — with stories, workshops, and experiences designed to inspire and demonstrate real change. Here are the key takeaways from the five keynote speakers:
Christine Congdon, Director of Global Research Communications, Steelcase
Christine kicked off with an articulate rebuttal to the notion that the office is going away. The office isn’t going anywhere, she said, but instead “the office will become fundamentally different than what it is today — the office is going through a renaissance, a cultural movement.”
In her role at Steelcase, Christine has seen a lot of workspaces, and it was particularly interesting to hear about a future vision combining space and artificial intelligence. “Can the room become a participant in the meeting? Can the room take notes and distribute them to the team?” She had audience members dreaming of a future workspace where technology makes it easier to focus on the work instead of working.
Peter Cavanaugh, Ecosystem Transformation Leader, GE
With GE’s headquarters moving to Boston, there was a lot of excitement around learning about their workplace strategy. Cavanaugh went beyond basic building descriptors, broadly discussing how the new headquarters and GE culture, are looking to connect and strengthen the innovation ecosystem.
Peter quoted GE CEO Jeff Immelt’s new mantra: “We want to be ‘in the flow’.” Meaning the flow of ideas and talent that generate innovation. Much of Peter’s talk focused on people: “Over the life of this building, there’s going to be more spent on the people inside the building than spent to construct the building,” he said. If that’s not an argument for human-centered design, I don’t know what is.
Leigh Stringer, Workplace Specialist, EYP
Leigh is the author of The Healthy Workplace, a fascinating book about improving the wellbeing of employees to boost the bottom line. She took the group through a series of questions from a wellness survey developed by the Harvard School of Public Health’s SHINE Center (Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise), asking about physical and mental health, sleep and exercise habits and hours at work.
Truthfully, most employees are stressed and burn-out is real. This challenged the audience to utilize Leigh’s strategies — movement, nutrition, space, and sleep — to help teams effectively manage stress.
Adam Connor, VP of Organizational Design & Training, Mad*Pow
Adam Connor is all about organizational culture — defining culture as “the shared set of beliefs that direct and influence how members of organizations behave and interact.”
Adam advised paying attention to three cultural systems:
- The rational/formal system. The hierarchies, rules and steps that organizations put in place to operate (think organizational charts).
- The natural/adaptive system. “How things actually work” — people need to adapt to be effective.
- The open system. This takes a broad view, because your organization and systems exist and are influenced by larger systems in our society, economy, and environments — understanding how these systems interact with your organization is key.
Some keys from Adam’s talk were to try to visualize culture at our own organizations and to look at the artifacts and rituals we have, or want to have, in order to strengthen our company culture.
Bryan Koop, SVP, Boston Properties
Bryan Koop discussed using design thinking to drive innovation at Boston Properties.
“For the first 25 years of my career I was in commercial real estate, now I’m in the space and place business, creating experiences for human beings,” he said.
Bryan stressed taking an organizational stance on every project.
“Organizations that are going to be great and survive need to have a stance — it’s more than a mission statement, it’s a position of what you believe,” he said. His team even creates a movie poster for every project to visualize and share the stance company-wide.
At the end of Bryan’s talk, he mentioned Boston Properties’ work to capture rainwater in one of its new towers, which was initially opposed by members of the team for being too difficult and expensive. Bryan’s response: “Well I’m pretty sure the Romans were doing it — let’s give it a whirl!”
“Let’s give it a whirl” could be the rallying cry for workplace innovators everywhere.