Brace yourself for the 2024 Olympics

London may well have the swagger that goes with a global city but Paris will always be a treat for the eye. A couple of weeks ago, I attended a Cognizant sponsored event on AI and I have to say, Paris doesn’t feel like it’s changed much since my first solo trip by ferry (I’m showing my age: my first trip predated cheap flights and even the Eurostar!) This trip coincided with the International Olympics Committee’s awarding the 2024 Olympics to Paris. And this got me thinking about Paris because it’s going to look and feel very different by the time the Olympic circus rolls into town in 2024.

I think that the French Olympics is going to the stuff of legend. It will be packed full of spell binding technology to really make the Olympic experience shared and breath-taking not for just those that are there, but for everyone that tunes in. I can imagine it being a similar phenomenon to when the Rome Olympics were first broadcast across Europe in 1960 or the live global broadcast of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Looking back at the quality of the broadcast then and now, you can begin to see the potential for sport broadcasting and crowd participation over the next 10 years. Now wonder a king’s ransom is pouring into virtual reality tools, technologies and start-ups as the tech giants look to understand and exploit these new tools—industry chatter is about a technology game changer. They’re right. But back to Paris and what can we expect.

As a tourist to the city in 2024 you are going to be a hit with a whole host of tech innovations that will bring the ideas and concepts we live and breathe at the Centre for the Future of Work into focus. Imagine interacting with a 3D hologram placed on the corner of the Champs-Élysées that can be dialled up, telling you how to get to the volley ball or to the Louvre or see the replay of the 100m final. Or the people friendly, android/robots trundling around the upmarket Galeries Lafayette that you can address in any language, and are able to deliver the answer you need without a Gallic shrug in sight. Or find yourself stuck near the Eiffel tower? All you need to do is press a button on your smart phone—or swipe the chip implanted into your hand over a reader—and summon a self-driving pod which will whisk you and the family safely back to your hotel. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction but it’s a future that is happening much quicker than we think.

Paris has just followed Singapore down the path toward an autonomous future because today, travellers to the city can cross the River Seine between the Gare d ‘Austerlitz and Gare de Lyon and make the trip for free aboard one of two electric, driverless shuttles. The shuttles carry six passengers and a human overseer to keep an eye on things. These pods trundle back and forth over the Charles de Gaulle Bridge in a dedicated lane, making the 800-foot jaunt at about 12 mph (basically it’s too short for a taxi; it’s too painful with suitcases and a couple of moody teenagers in tow). It’s not a massive “wow” but it’s a sign of things to come in how we approach transport in our cities. And looking ahead six years after the Olympics, Paris has plans to be the greenest capital in Europe by banning all petrol and diesel cars off the road. Electric everywhere. And I take my hat off to the French for doing this. The city where the first global climate change accords were signed is walking the talk.

When the Olympics hit Paris perhaps we’ll cycle around with bike that powers itself. Check out the Copenhagen wheel that gives anyone (yes, even my mother-in-law) superhuman powers, and the ability to ride their bikes 10 times faster. The wheel synchronizes with your movements and amplifies pedal power as you cycle around the newly clean, traffic free streets (imagine how good the Parisian café culture is going to be). It looks supercool as well—it’s a red hub that turns almost any bike into a smart electric hybrid with a custom motor, advanced sensors, control systems, and a battery. Bluetooth connectivity (of course) enables you to personalize your cycling experience from your smartphone. Easy to fix too: simply replace the rear wheel of your bike or add it to a new bike (OK, my big plug is over for the Copenhagen wheel but I read about this innovation when I was on the Eurostar and I think it could be a game changer for all of us). In the meantime, perhaps we can figure out law around the blighted Segway and allow to actually use them to move around.

Most of all, think about all those people at home that cannot make it to Paris in 2024. This will be the most interactive, immersive, real-life-in-the-home Olympics ever. The images we will be in 3D, 4D and layered with insight and information about everything you could possible want to know about the sport, the competitors and the place where it’s happening. Think about putting on your headset (or a more palatable pair of hi-tech Ray-Bans or sporty Oakleys) and visit the games as if you were actually there in person. I can believe this vision will happen and I suspect you can too. You really need to read my colleague Rob Brown’s forthcoming report “Augmenting the Reality of Everything” and think about how incredible the Parisian Olympics are going to be for all of us. It’s another smart move for France’s tech industry that could catalyse great things for the country like the London Olympics did for the East End of London. Watch this space.

People, Place, Work.

By now you know the score: we’re moving through a significant economic shift; Business value increasingly accrues at the intersection of the physical and virtual worlds; Our connected cars, intelligent homes, emerging crypto currencies together signal a raft of new market niches and commercial opportunities that were unheard-of a mere 5 years ago. The power behind economic performance is irrevocably linked to how well a company innovates and marshal’s data around its value chain versus its competitors. The prize is lucrative for those that get it right. And the number of organizations that are beginning to get it right is growing (Bosch, GE, DHL etc. See my previous post).

Those lumbering organizations once struggling with legacy business models, bloated cost structures and zombie workforces are, we think turning a corner. They’re getting “match fit” for the opportunities ahead. The metabolism for innovation is rising as agile ways of working, higher rates of collaborating, and partnering proliferate while the platform becomes the default organizing principle for work. I think the job is only half done however. Until organizations radically change form to follow function, then they risk a digital stall. I’m keen to know if there is a radical need to realign not only people but also the places where people go and get work done. After all, place is still a proxy for culture.

I am beginning to think that the relationship between the places where work gets done and the people that work there is starting to change. This is because the dynamics surrounding how we work—nomadic work cultures, the growth of the gig economy, and the rise of talent clusters in many smaller, regional cities—are changing the concept of place and space for an organization and triggering a profound set of questions about what constitutes the corporate norms of how and where we work. Leaders have to ask themselves not just how employees will work together but where they will work together? What skills and capabilities does your firm need and how and where will it locate them? I think there is something more profound happening and its shows the relentless march of technology into every aspect of our lives. Our cities where people traditionally work are starting to change their look and feel.

Check out how the world’s tech giants, dripping with money and power, are changing the dynamics in and around our largest cities. From California to London, Google, Facebook and Apple are employing the world’s best architects to build awe inspiring symbols of their immense wealth and global power. Your jaw will drop when you see Apple Park: it’s a circle of glass designed to foster creativity and innovation and its obsession with detail is mindboggling: Its (German manufactured) windows provide the largest panels of curved glass anywhere on the planet while the planned underground theatre is truly something to behold. Then go and explore Google’s newly announced plans for its London HQ in the once seedy Kings Cross. It’s being called a “land scraper” with 92,000 square meters complete with a running track installed on its roof. These symbols of wealth and power could well be the smartest office space on the planet. But how far will the interaction between people and the place they work evolve? Will it be the shiny new world of Buck Rogers or the ominous territory staked out by Black Mirror?

Expect the tension between employers and their employees to grow. The implicit contract of trust sitting between both sides skews as intelligence grows around buildings and the occupants that work within them. A recent news story backs this up—Three Square, a US technology company wants to microchip its employees. The chip is the size of a grain of rice and will be implanted underneath the skin between thumb and forefinger (a bit like the bead inserted behind the ear in the ever ominous Black Mirror). The chip is optional (for now) and uses the same NFC technology that’s found in our contactless cards. With the chip employees can pay for food and drink, open doors, log onto computers and use other corporate resources. It makes sense when you consider that Three Square writes software for vending machines. That said, is there a danger that our employees become bits and bytes that can be tracked and gamified across the company? Would that work for you in your place of work?

Last year’s Future of Talent described a new work platform enabling employers to better understand the productive behavioral patterns of their workforce. We wrote how Bank of America uses sensory data to better understand employee performance dynamics and learned that; call center performance increased when staff had “hang time” with others in their social circle during lunch breaks. It then deliberately overlapped these lunch breaks, leading to a 23% increase in performance. So if we were to extrapolate...who would you choose to have in your team? The rabid “Brexiteer” or a bleeding heart liberal? What if a clever algorithm could augment your teams or co-locate staff to ensure space at work is harmonious and productive. Or perhaps you think a little “grit” makes a pearl.

Whatever you think, the places where we work are being supercharged with technology but the truth is they act as cultural barometers for people and the companies that inhabit them. Our previous work offered insights on how to enable people and how to enable leaders. Now we’re going to explore how to enable place?

PS. If you think chipping people won’t happen here in Europe then think again. A Swedish rail company started offering it’s passengers options of using a chip implanted into their hand in lieu of a paper train ticket...and we’re getting used to handing over our bodies to make our lives frictionless! The UK’s TSB bank announced it would become the first bank in Europe to introduce iris recognition on its mobile banking app. This stuff is creeping up on us fast.

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A Future that Works

The places in which we work are changing dramatically. Just 20 years ago, the offices of large organizations were clustered in capital cities or economic hubs, and work took place almost exclusively in those offices. The offices themselves were a sea of nondescript cubicles, with leadership cocooned away in the stereotypical penthouse office suite.

At this time, offices were simply a place to congregate to create output, much of which revolved around the fulfilment of rote tasks, such as manual invoice processing within an accounts payable department. Capital cities were, by and large, hubs for these large organizations, clustered into vertical “regions” within the city, think Bank in London or Wall Street in New York.

Now, however, we are seeing a rapid change. Work is beginning to move outside of capital cities, with start-ups and innovation centers now clustering around talent, such as in the emerging tech hubs of Bristol, Madrid and Lisbon. The phrase coined in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams (“If you build it, they will come”) no longer seems relevant to the modern business world.

Digital disruption, coupled with economic growth, has fueled an intense talent war, with organizations struggling to fill vital digital roles, such as big data, analytics, creative, social media and digital strategy specialists. As such, the global emergence of attractive regional talent hubs in which organizations can build “hot houses” for “start-up-like” teams within their business are becoming, and will continue to become, increasingly familiar. Organizations such as Barclays, Accenture and even the HM Revenue & Customs have moved internal start-ups and innovation units away from central London and into regional hubs, such as Newcastle and Bristol.

From Location to Office Design

Cities are one thing, but what about where people actually “do” work?

The office's role in business today has undergone a massive shift. No longer is the office just a space to produce and congregate; it is now an enabler of creativity, production, innovation and company culture. The metrics needed to evaluate office space effectiveness need to change, as the previous metrics of productivity, e.g. receipts processed, calls answered, emails sent, are no longer relevant.

FANG organizations have been fundamental in making this shift. Think of Google’s offices, which ooze company culture through every primary colored writeable wall and slide, or the open work spaces that encourage chance meetings and, therefore, collaboration or innovation. The ethos of these tech firms is now shaping many legacy businesses in terms of culture and office design as traditional companies adapt to enhance internal collaboration and innovation to drive digital strategies in their organizations.

Office function doesn’t end here, as these spaces also need to operate as talent incubators or nurseries. The idea that millennials want freedom to work remotely is false. The real story is that millennials want to work closely alongside their boss to learn and also to make a good impression. Office design, therefore, needs to foster this, from seating arrangements that put management within touching distance of graduates, through to collaboration and break-out areas that encourage chance encounters of differing hierarchies in the business. Google has made an art out of the “chance encounter,” specifically designing office spaces with layouts that maximize “casual collisions”.

From moving to regional talent clusters to pulling down those grey cubicles and replacing them with standing desks in open plan offices, it’s undeniably apparent that businesses are rethinking space. Cities and offices are no longer viewed as just congregation points for business.

Office location and design are fundamentally linked to talent, innovation, collaboration, culture and productivity. Therefore, effective use of these spaces needs to be viewed as a critical strategic imperative as organizations look to drive digital initiatives and succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.