We are Enabled by Design: Future of the Workplace

workplace breakout session

It’s hard to believe, but a fortnight has already passed since our very first “We are Enabled by Design” event at the Design Museum, London. As promised, we’ve been busy gathering as much content and footage from the day as possible, to share with you here on the Enabled by Design website.

Today is the first installment of a guest blog series we’re running to summarise each of the breakout sessions that took place on the day.

First up is the sticky subject of employment and how we can make it more accessible to everyone. Enabled by Design is passionate about this important issue and we’d very much like to get involved and help inform future policy and provision.

In light of the recent Emergency Budget, the changes being made to the welfare state, as well as from my own experiences, we feel that
flexible working should be made readily available and the support
framework for employment needs to be improved to help remove (or at least circumnavigate) the often
forgotten barriers to work.


For me employment is a subject that’s very close to my heart, having had

to give up my career as a result of a change in health. I have relapsing and remitting multiple sclerosis (MS), which is unpredictable, variable and affects each person differently. It’s most definitely a bugbear of mine that the technology exists to facilitate people to work from home, but is rarely if ever offered as an option when starting a new job. Because of my needs, working in a 9 to 5 desk job just doesn’t work for me and has unfortunately ended in a number of hospital admissions due to relapse. Work has always been an integral part of who I am and I felt worthless without its focus in my life. After a prolonged period of trying to fit in with current society’s employment norm, followed by hospital admissions and treatment, I realised that this wasn’t sustainable and my health had (probably irreversibly) taken a turn for the worse. So after banging my head against what felt like a very hard brick wall, I started to look at ways of setting up my own business and the concept for Enabled by Design was born.

Right, so you’ve heard all about why employment is so important to us and for this reason we decided to dedicate a session at “We are Enabled by Design” to it.

So to kick off proceedings, please welcome Lizzie Ostrom and Amanda Gore from A + E, who kindly ran our employment and workplace session:

A+E logo

How do we want our workspace to be designed?


How will we value work in the future?


How do we improve working lives for everybody?


These were some of the things we were asking as we
embarked on our first event as A+E, organised by the impressive Enabled by Design to bring practitioners together for a new look at the aging
and disability debate. Whether it’s our homes, our workplaces, our products or
our technologies, instead of designing special ‘stuff’ for those with access
needs (and which often looks grim, let’s face it), Enabled by Design says: can’t
we just make sure we’re designing great stuff for all? For more on Design for All, head over here.


A+E were invited to facilitate the session on the
Future of the Workplace, a subject very close to our hearts. As we work with
organisations to keep them adapted and ahead of trends, it would be stupid for
us NOT to care about this area given change is happening rapidly. We’re
particularly interested in post-retirement earning, and what needs to happen to
better enable those 60+ to earn money. On their own terms.


We know that the situation is still pretty dire when
it comes to older and disabled people in the workplace. But before zooming in
on the obstacles, we started by looking at some of the big questions we’re all
facing in our relationship with work, before going into groups to talk about
what everyone thinks. We were really lucky to be joined by Catriona Watt, an
employment lawyer with Fox Lawyers, and John Williams, who’s just
written a book called Screw Work, Let’s Play: How to do what you love and make it pay


Here’s where you can find out about John’s book
including a free sample chapter giving the download on how our formats of working are


Here are Catriona’s slides from event day [NB. This is
a general account of the law as it currently stands. It is always best to seek
legal advice for specific queries]:


And here are our slides, which also include summaries
of the groups discussions that followed:

Some really important things emerged here, which we
offer up as challenges which need looking at some more:


1. Those cool offices in San Francisco with
collapsible meeting rooms and zen meditations pods? Great, love ’em. What about
your average small business over here, in Cornwall, Scunthorpe or Watford?
Because most employers in the UK are small businesses and they can only do
little things on the cheap. So what can we do? Better lighting? Look at the way
desks are configured? Put wheels on our tables? We remember hearing about
fascinating piece of research that a calligrapher carried out with Xerox: when
a workplace swapped from wheely-chairs to those without, colleagues stopped
turning to each other to check things and communicate, which then had a huge
impact on productivity. It’s the small changes that make a difference.


2. Flexi-working, remote working and virtual teams are
often setups we aspire to, particularly when thinking about engaging and
retaining older and disabled workers who find 9-5 in a physical space more
challenging, but what are the repercussions? Something really strong came out:
people get lonely working alone, no matter how many Basecamp accounts you’re a part of. How do we create the watercooler when we’re all
dispersed? John Williams pointed out #watercoolermoments, a virtual daily gathering
on twitter for home-based entrepreneurs, started by Enterprise Nation.


3. We’re still stuck in time-based valuations of an
employee’s contribution. Ok, so we don’t want to go to 100% commission deals,
that’s overboard, but if an experienced 70 year old can achieve in two hours
what a 30 year old needs two weeks to do, and can only work a few hours a week,
surely that works out well both sides? Maybe we need more results-based reward,
something that Seth Godin explores in his new book, Lynchpins.
Maybe it’s about new contractual relationships that connect the best of freelancing
with payroll.


All complex, but there are ways through here. If you
know of any great projects that are improving the way work works, leave a
comment or get in touch – we’re keen to keep the conversation going, and will
share interesting ideas via the blog.

Thanks Lizzie and Amanda, we’re really glad that you were able to join us and we look forward to keeping in touch.

Thanks again for all your help, time and support!

Team EbD x