23-25 May, Berlin 2018

What we learned from BCO Annual Conference 2018 – Berlin: Be Bold

This year, the BCO Annual Conference took place in a sunny Berlin – and adopted the central theme of “Diversity and Inclusion”. Under Conference Chair, Katrina Kostic Samen, it set out to explore all expressions of diversity – such as gender, ethnicity, religion, culture and physicality – and how to design workplaces that are inclusive of all. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to understand the needs of a diverse workforce to ensure the provision of inclusive environments that foster creativity, connection, human fulfilment, and productivity.

The conference offered a diverse line-up of 49 speakers, from neuroscientists and technologists, to behaviourists and property professionals, as well as 26 tours of iconic buildings and key commercial property locations across the German capital.

To ensure the conference truly delivered on its theme of “Diversity and Inclusion”, for the first time, 50 conference tickets were available to NextGen members at half price as a way to encourage the attendance of young property professionals. Across all sporting events – including golf and cycling – places were also reserved exclusively for female delegates to ensure a better gender balance.

This new approach led to a significant increase in numbers of female delegates - a total of 21%, and 81 NextGen delegates.

This year’s conference, as with past events, also raised a significant amount of money for charity – including over £20,000 raised for children’s charity Barnardo’s by the 250-mile, three-day cycling sportive from Copenhagen to Berlin.

Reflecting on lively debate, inspiring discussion and a truly collaborative environment, here are some of the key themes discussed over the course of the three-day conference:

  1. Men need to be more visible in conversations around gender. Within the current paradigm, men are often considered agender, whilst women are gendered, said Michael Kaufman, an author and theorist focused on the role of men and boys in gender equality. In his view, men need to understand that they have an active role to play in the gender debate to effect real change – for the benefit of men and women.


  2. We need to design for a neurodiverse audience. The term ‘Neurodiversity’ refers to people on the autistic spectrum, those with ADHD or Dyspraxia, as well as individuals with other neurological conditions. There is a rising focus on the need to ensure that our workplaces are inclusive of these individuals - and office design has an important role to play within this. Considering the effects of light and noise, as well as enabling different kinds of wayfinding within an office space, are key to ensuring that a space is inclusive of neurodiverse individuals, said Cognitive Neuroscientist Araceli Camargo.


  3. Size matters. The world we live in assumes an average height of office occupier and designs around this, often to the detriment of those much shorter or taller. Delegates were reminded of the need to create offices to meet the needs of all occupiers, taking into consideration not just furnishings, but also the design of the space at varying eyelines.


  4. “Brexit isn’t a crisis. It’s worse than that.” According to the Financial Times’ Political columnist Janan Ganesh, we won’t feel the negative effects of Britain leaving the EU straight away. Instead, in his view, we’ll see a slow, almost imperceptible decline that will result in the UK being substantially poorer – the cumulative effect of foreign investments channelled into Europe rather than the UK, for example, or talented PhD candidates who opt to first study, then take skilled jobs, in other European capitals.


  5. “Cyber-attacks are the West’s greatest existential threat.” Whilst Western security and intelligence has made great progress in anticipating and preventing terrorist attacks, we are far less able to protect ourselves against cyber-attacks. These attacks, said the BBC’s Security Correspondent Frank Gardner, can cripple entire countries and are becoming more frequent - the UK experiences 4.5 million cyber-attacks every month. Businesses must consider their own cyber security - it takes a company 140 days to patch a piece of malware, yet a new threat appears on the internet every 2-3 seconds.


  6. ‘Access over ownership’ will revolutionise real estate. It’s a fascinating time to be in the property industry, according to former Head of European Expansion at WeWork, Rajdeep Gahir. The macro trend of increasing preference for access over ownership will transform the way we search for and secure property – we’re likely to see a rise in online platforms allowing for flexible booking of office space, with built-in smart contracting systems which could eradicate the need for lawyers.


  7. AI will enhance facilities management. Across a range of industries, rapidly advancing technologies mean that we’re able to collect data with greater ease, and analyse it in a more sophisticated fashion. Professor Ruth Conroy Dalton, of Northumbria University, explained that AI in particular could be put to use to aid facilities management. For example, results from sentiment analysis as to how occupants feel about their workspace could be combed by AI, and the conclusions used to make live changes in response.


  8. We’re working with our whole bodies. Dr Nick Dalton, whose research at Northumbria University focuses on Human Computer interaction, explained that we are moving away from interactions based solely on fingers and eyes. More and more of us have voice recognition devices in our homes – we’re likely to see this trend echoed in our offices. The longer-term future, he predicts, will see technology that enables us to carry out tasks in the workplace using our whole bodies. This has the dual benefits of allowing us to work in a way that’s more intuitive, and which requires us to be more physically active.


  9. Customer experience is key. Shaping the future of cities to improve the work and life experience of their inhabitants is a passion, and professional focus, for CEO and co-founder of District Technologies, Vanessa Butz. Delivering excellence in smart buildings should be the role of the offices sector within the future cities debate - using new technologies to deliver exceptional customer service, through creating a personalised experience. Vanessa predicts that within the next two years, every premium building will have an app to create and deliver exceptional service.


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

Next’s year’s BCO Annual Conference will take place in Copenhagen, from 5-7 June 2019. It will explore the concept of Arbejdsglaede (pronounced Ah-Bites-Gleh-The) – which roughly translates as “Work Joy”. Tickets will go on sale for BCO members in November 2018, and to the general public in January 2019.