2020 seen as ‘catalytic moment’ for change at Silicon Valley conference
COVID-19 has homeowners as well as corporations rethinking space requirements. File photo.

Economic recovery and redesigned workplaces were the hot topics Wednesday for those attending the second day of Joint Venture’s 17th State of the Valley conference, which brought together business and community leaders to imagine the future for Silicon Valley.

While the first day of the conference focused on workplace diversity, climate change and transportation, the second day broadened to the topic of economic recovery in Silicon Valley, and what work-life balance might look like.

Each year Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a local nonprofit, hosts the event to discuss the findings of its Silicon Valley Index report, which details how the region is faring that year in terms of economic growth. This year, the report showed how inequities in the local economy, health, housing, hunger and digital access are more pronounced than ever.

Joint Venture CEO Russell Hancock on Wednesday started the conference with a conversation with San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Nicole Taylor, president of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, to talk about which strategies have worked, and which haven’t, over the past year.

Hancock praised the work of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties to address problems identified in the report.

“Both counties made it a priority to bridge the digital divide, to provide active and safe public transportation and to support local businesses — those emerged as three key priorities across both counties,” Hancock said. The best work came as a result of public, private and social sector partnerships, he said.

Ben Tranel, a principal at the the global architectural firm Gensler, noted the pandemic has given Silicon Valley the opportunity to create a better future.

“If we look back on 2020, I think we might see it as a year of enlightenment; a year of transition,” Tranel said. “We might see 2020 in different terms where it is no longer the toughest year of many of our lives but a catalytic moment that has led to our best decade ever.”

Tranel, who leads projects in hospitality, mixed-use, residential, office and civic design, said workers will want to return to the office. In a survey performed by Gensler, 88% of respondents said they want to return to work four days a week.

“We also found, when we look into the details, the overwhelming reason people want to go to work is to be together with colleagues,” Tranel said.

Post-pandemic offices won’t be filled with hand sanitizer, gloves and plexiglass, though, Tranel said. The real change is how we think about public health.

“What we think will come out of this is continued attention to public health and health in the work place, ” Tranel said. “Think of the cultural habits we will change.”

Hancock asked if the shift to remote work and the much talked about “tech exodus” in the Bay Area might result in a reduction of office space square footage.

Tranel said he thinks employees will want more collaboration space, not less.

“We won’t just have a sea of desks with people packed in there,” Tranel said. “How that translates to exact square footage per person, we will see as we evolve and come out of this.”

Other panels Wednesday included an address from Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody, with a reflection on the past year and thoughts on the future of public health. To close out the conference, Julián Castro, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under former President Barack Obama, noted Silicon Valley’s place in the national scene.

Hancock told San José Spotlight “at least once a year everyone should gather.”

“The most important thing about this conference is that we do it,” Hancock said. “The ritual is just hugely important. At least once a year we need to come up out of our foxholes and our trenches and gather on the village square. We need to assess how we’re doing. We need to survey the challenges ahead. We need to talk about how we address them.”

Carly Wipf contributed to this report. 

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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