Future Work Webinar
Chairing this event, Paul Reynolds asked the panellists ‘where will we be working?’ His introduction suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting effects on the world of work. It will change how people work in homes, offices, factories, shops and distribution warehouses. The already advanced use of robots and other forms of automation to replace work may accelerate.
All of the panellists agreed that human contact at work remains essential and that designers had to adjust urban spaces accordingly. They also concurred about the revival of high streets with multiple uses, including co-working spaces for a better live-work balance.
John Avery (LOM architecture and design) showed their designs for the new Bishopsgate NatWest office building made safe for post-COVID-19 working. This has meant restructuring the whole building including workplaces to accommodate more social spaces and opening up the ground floors to public use, possibly for co-working. He showed the sea of office chairs dispatched to homeworkers, as some homeworking is bound to continue.
Andy Graham (The Urban Glow) was also convinced that homeworking, a lonely experience, would not take over from work in offices, and cities would remain social melting pots. His designs for a Tesco building provided many spaces for interaction and socialising, and fewer desk spaces for conventional 9-5 work.
Alex Cochrane (SWECO) considered Sweden to be the incubator of future work patterns. He invoked the World Economic Foundation’s optimistic vision of artificial intelligence and automation liberating workers from routine work, which would lead to liveable rather than competitive cities, sustainable green finance, compact living and more social enterprises. He had designed a multi-functional business community centre in a village which leverages digitalisation trends with social contact and channels synergy into the high street.
Diarmaid Lawlor (Scottish Futures Trust) also dealt with rural places. He invoked Shetland’s declining off-shore industrial work to illustrate that the urbanism of small places needs to explore how to future-proof work and be more reliant on sustainable indigenous resources and local human capital to stem migration for the remote community’s survival. The pandemic has opened up new vulnerabilities with regard to well-being and social-spatial-environmental equity. Mobility is confined to the highly paid, and for a resilient recovery work would have to become more equitable.
A lively and well informed discussion followed. It focused on urban design solutions and financial as well as human costs. Self-contained offices were in danger of impoverishing urban life around them, unless the future office experience became an urban experience. Freelancers were increasingly expected to use co-working spaces, possibly near their homes, thus helping to revive the high street by transforming redundant premises into multi-purpose uses. All this means much challenging work ahead for urban designers.
Judith Ryser, researcher, journalist, writer and urban affairs consultant to Fundacion Metropoli, Madrid
Introduction and Chair
Paul Reynolds UDG Secretary | Tapestry, Director
Diarmaid Lawlor Scottish Futures Trust, Associate Director
TOWNS AND DISTRIBUTED WORKING - RHETORIC AND REALITY
Alex Cochrane SWECO, Project Director
THE FUTURE OF WORK AND WHAT IT MAY MEAN FOR THE HIGH STREET
Andy Graham TheUrbanGlow, Director
COULD CO-WORKING SPACES SAVE HERITAGE BUILDINGS
John Avery LOM architecture and design, Director
FROM HOME TO HUB - REIMAGINGING THE OFFICE FOR A POST-COVID AGE
See event page for more info and recording of presentations