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Rethinking our approach to office space

In this episode of our New Ways: Leading in a Changed World Series, Pexip spoke with urban designer and architect, HY William Chan. Named in the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, Chan has also spoken at the United Nations General Assembly. He is a bold advocate for social inclusion and climate resilience within urban communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired a dramatic shift in how we understand and value the office. Fresh off a year working from home, many people now expect work will fit seamlessly into their quest for a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Companies have a fresh slate after cramming – as Chan puts it – “a decade of digital disruption in one year.”

Now is the time for ambition when thinking about the future of the office: new design features, new collaboration models and even new locales.

The dynamic range of possibility for companies, which social scientists refer to as the Overton Window, hasn’t just moved, Chan says: “Right now, the window is wide open, and it’s waiting for us to jump through.”

We can literally work from anywhere

In recent months, global tech leaders like Twitter, Atlassian, Spotify and Slack have committed to support their employees to not just “work from home” but “work from anywhere.”

Not all companies will follow suit. Nevertheless, Chan predicts growing experimentation with creating smaller hub offices away from CBDs. Such a satellite could be a simple 10- or 15-minute commute from home; equipped with all the technology needed to support team collaboration.

Regional towns could be re-geared towards office workers – something that will appeal to those seeking a sea-change or a tree-change.

“We have fantastic regional towns and cities across Australia,” he says. “It's important to really think about how these areas are able to support an influx of workers. Not just providing technology infrastructure, but quality public spaces beyond just having libraries, where people can work on their laptops.”

New possibilities for the traditional office

As for firms looking to return staff to their corporate headquarters in CBDs, Chan says the focus should be on creating a healthy workplace in holistic terms.

He recommends revamped interiors to provide more fresh air and natural light – and modular, accessible furniture that can be easily moved to suit workers’ needs.

Companies should also devise new social opportunities and even office “treats” that excite people to come together. “For me, as a creative person, it’s so fantastic being able to work with others and actually bounce ideas,” he says. “It’s about understanding how we can still have those collaborative moments.”

“That's going to help people come back.” 

Technology as a means not an end

There is a big role for digital technology in the office’s evolution. Chan emphasizes that companies must focus on the kind of workplace environment they want to create. He sees this as the next challenge - for firms to integrate exciting capabilities such as video conferencing, or greater use of data analytics and artificial intelligence, in a way that furthers their employees’ physical and mental well-being.

At its best, technology frees up people’s time and supports their ability to lead more fulfilling, productive lives. “Technologies are really only there to facilitate – we must really focus on the social outcomes,” he says.

“We just need to see what’s possible. There is hope, there is optimism – these are historic, unprecedented times.”

This epiPexip-Adelaide-Sydney-video-connectsode was filmed with interviewer Ben Campbell in Adelaide, and HY William Chan in Sydney, Australia – using Pexip video to bring everyone together.

Discover more video interviews from our New Ways: Leading in a Changed World Series, where industry leaders share views on how to thrive in a changed world.



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