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Setting Sail on a Shared Journey

How will we work in the future? Will we have co-workers? Permanent positions? Or will we abandon work altogether? These were the questions that the participants at USM WorkHouse dealt with.      

There is no way around thinking about the future of work. Not just because you want to be prepared for it. What’s even more important is being actively involved in shaping this future. But being in a position to take the necessary time to become inspired and ask questions is a luxury. It is the kind of luxury that USM and UN Studio offered a group of designers, architects and experts from all over the world in June 2018. In the heart of Brandenburg, 40 minutes away from Berlin, idyllically located in a former mill, with bubbling brook and birds singing (and some pretty big mosquitoes), and nothing to obstruct your view – the USM WorkHouse was the perfect venue for the upcoming PlayLabs. 

Keynote speaker Rohit Talwar – a futurist with some thoroughly optimistic visions of the future – kicked things off. He anticipates the arrival of a whole range of technological achievements, such as free digital distribution channels, vertical farming that will provide us with free food, and synthetic biology that could develop all kinds of new materials. He’s especially excited about AI: “Artificial Intelligence frees us from monotonous routine work so that we can dedicate ourselves to more important tasks, and let our creativity run free.” Apart from listening to inspiring talks, you could also learn more tangible things during the opening weekend. For example, there were the Workhacks developed by Lydia Schültken that make us more relaxed and improve teamwork. One of her suggestions involved introducing focus time in companies: One hour a day is reserved for focused work. Nobody speaks, no meetings take place, nobody checks their mails or talks on the phone. 

In each of the first three PlayLabs, a handful of participants were then invited to engage with future scenarios in a focused fashion. Alice Haugh (a futurist at UN Studio) and Thomas Dienes (head of product development at USM), both of whom worked together on the floating spaces and installation at the WorkHouse for more than a year, thought it especially important to create spaces where open communication and contemplation could take place. And just as importantly: the journey that USM began with the installation The PlayGround at Salone de Mobile in Milan and which continued at the WorkHouse is still not over. “My great hope is that our experiences here do not end with the people who were involved here, but that this is just the beginning of a long, shared journey.” Because whatever visions we have of the future should inform the things that we start building now.