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Apr 17, 2014

Smart Working – gaining momentum?


Chris Kane at The Great Room, RSA

The search for new ways to create agile teams is gathering pace. Not only was it discussed at Quora’s Smart Working Summit last week, but at a similar event last month I gave a talk on what it takes to create a truly agile, creative and flexible working environment. Quora, the organisers shared some of the delegate feedback afterwards and I was particularly struck by this comment:

“I go to a lot of property conferences but today had a truly different vibe.  It far more reflected the realities of a modern challenging workplace and I can’t wait to put what I’ve learned today into practice in my organisation” 

For me, the topics discussed reinforced the need for the workplace industry in all its guises to focus on the bigger picture.


This is a topic which is close to my heart and the invitation to make a contribution to the Smart Working Summit (there will be further events in June & October) appealed to me because the agenda was spread across the three key contributors – People, Place and Process – not, as is often the case,  focussed only on one.  Billy Davidson from Vodafone captured this nicely with the metaphor of Behaviours, Bricks and Bytes.  While all three are important constituents of a successful workplace, proper consideration needs to be given as to how to use them in order to get the best mix.   The backdrop provided by the RSA was totally appropriate given the RSA’s history  is  solving big problems by unleashing the human potential for enterprise and creativity.

Billy Davidson at the RSA London


The speakers represented a broad church comprising leadership, HR, Technology, headhunting, and property and provided a true business driven flavour to the discussion as opposed to, say, a property or HR conference. 

A number of key ideas and questions came out of the discussions:

Change – if a leader judges something to be really important then the leader should make the change themselves, otherwise it is delegated and could be lost.  It is all about authenticity – one has to really walk the talk to make change stick.

Performance – Given 90% of mangers say they don’t fully prepare for meetings, what does it take to make individual high performance sustainable? 

Trends – Nicola Millwards identified five trends driving the future –  rise of diversity, death of dolly/Dilbert/distance/doctor No. If these are strange references you should take a closer look.

Talent – Has the candidate won the war?

Culture –  What will culture mean for successful organisations?

Confidentiality – Has it died?

One emerging theme is clear – we are in the midst of something significant.  We really do need to challenge some long standing thinking; we need to challenge the way we work.  According to Barry Flack, the future is crashing into the organisation and we may have an ’emperors new clothes’ situation: the nature of work has changed but mostly we can’t see it and so continue trying to work in a 20th century straitjacket of behaviours, places and desktops as if nothing has happened.  Every time I use my smart phone I’m reminded of the huge amount of capability it provides me with. 


We need to step back and really think about where we are today; what we can do, why we are working the way we do? When do we need to work? How can we work differently now than 20 years ago? Why do we use workplaces in the same way as our parents did?  And let’s not forget that in less than 10 years, Gen Y will be firmly embedded in the management layers of our organisations: all the more reason to get today’s workplace set in the right direction.


These questions are being asked more and more across the world, but currently the debate is being promoted by a  relatively small number of people involved in supporting and enabling work.

For this discussion to move forward, more voices need to be heard, more perspectives considered and more experiences shared. I hope that readers of the blog will be getting

involved in the coming months; please do share any initial thoughts in the comments below.   Also look out for an invitation to join a ‘Big Conversation’ …

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