COPENHAGEN: Arbejdsglæde

5 - 7 June, Copenhagen 2019

What we learned from the BCO Annual Conference 2019

This year, the BCO Annual Conference was hosted in a very sunny Copenhagen. Conference Chair Paul Patenall, founding member and director of U+I, invited BCO members to join him in the happiest city in the world to explore the theme of Arbejdsglæde – the Danish concept of ‘Work Life Balance’. 

1. Less is sometimes more: Day One reminded us that less is sometimes more when it comes to office design. The world of work is far from what it was 30 years ago, where tall rise buildings were filled with rows of grey desks and basic canteens. Offices today aim to amaze and inspire but Paul’s introduction to the concept of ‘Work Life Balance’ highlighted that the UK market should be careful not to lose the high-quality execution of the ‘basics’ that have earned it a world-class status. Set in Copenhagen, home of the open floorplan and the atrium, we were reminded of the value in creating workspaces with ample space and plentiful access to natural light.

2. Collaboration is key: Managing Director of By & Havn, Anne Skovbro, opened our eyes to the transformative powers of collaboration between local and national government. She reminded us that Copenhagen in the 1990s was a city struggling to keep up with a post-industrial world. The City has since managed to recondition the harbour from a polluted site to one where locals can swim and relax - something delegates saw in action thanks to the city’s heat wave. Who knows, perhaps some delegates donned their own trunks and dived in?

3. Waste not, want not: We were inspired by Bjarke Ingels, founder of BIG. The 44-year-old ‘wunderkid’ told delegates how BIG’s work with the likes of Google and LEGO put the focus on offering solutions to the challenges of climate change. Google’s San Francisco campus, for example, wastes not even ‘a photon of light’ by converting daylight into energy.

4. A place for community:
Ingels’ spoke powerfully about creating a place for community within private spaces. For example, BIG’s Copenhagen Power Plant development features an all-weather ski slope on its roof, allowing workers to step away from their desk, come together and slalom away their stress. Denmark’s architecture policy quite literally ‘puts people first’ and Bjarke’s plenary, alongside the City tours available to delegates, demonstrated time and time again how commercial office space can be shared with the public for communal benefit.

5. Forgive, don’t forget: A journey through time with futurist Thimon de Jong taught delegates the value of workplace ‘alumni’ at a point of ‘trust crisis.’ It’s more important than ever, he warned, for businesses to get personal and build real relationships with people. At a point when the average European worker spends less than five years with one company, de Jong suggested treating those who leave as ‘alumni’ not ‘traitors’ and even letting them work from their old desk.

6. “We reached peak slide three years ago”: In an incredible closing panel between Carissa Kilgour (Founder, Co.Lab Workplace Advisory), André Spicer (Professor, Cass Business School), Alexander Kjerulf (Founder and Chief Happiness Officer, Woohoo) and Michelle Marwood (Senior Vice President and Head of Global Corporate Services for EMEA & India, Blackstone), delegates were reminded that happiness at work doesn’t come from gimmicks. Bean bags, slides and ping pong tables might look fun, but don’t generate genuine joy.

7. Purpose, focus, progress: Throughout the conference, it was clear there is no one silver bullet to delivering joy at work. However, Spicer felt it came from people finding purpose in their work, being allowed to focus on it and then seeing it progress. Spicer also said workers should have access to shared and private spaces so different working styles and needs can be catered for. Arbejdsglæde it seems, depends on the individual.

8. Brace yourself for a new world order – beyond the workplace:
No account of the BCO Annual Conference 2019 would be complete without a spotlight on the Hague vs Verhofstadt Brexit debate. Barely a seat was left empty as the former Belgium Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt MEP, and the former leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague ran delegates through our new political realities. While Verhofstadt lamented the use of the referendum as ‘a bullet in a weapon between the parties,’ Hague warned against the ‘imminent collapse’ facing Britain as politics moves steadily towards smaller, more focused parties. The lesson? Prepare for anything. 

For more conference highlights, check out the hashtag #BCOconference on the BCO’s Instagram and Twitter feeds. You can view the official photo album here.


Next’s year’s BCO Annual Conference will take place in Toronto, 10 – 12 June 2020, as we explore ‘Future Cities.’ 

Tickets will go on sale for BCO members in November 2019 and be available to the general public in January 2020.