Fira de Barcelona Gran Via
1-4 June 2021

RISE CultureWorking for a more equal future

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Elisa Rönkä is Head of Digital Market Development at Siemens Smart Infrastructure.

Tell us a bit about your career journey. Have you always been interested in digital transformation?

My career journey to a digital leadership role has been rather unconventional. I do not have a tech background, instead I spent the first 10 years of my career in finance positions in global companies. I have always been interested in the concept of value and who defines it and hence took an interest in design thinking from a mindset perspective. This is what brought me from finance into first, organisational digital transformation, and soon after into digital business transformation roles. Currently I am heading the European Digital Market Development team which is responsible for the go-to-market of our digital solutions and focuses on transforming the building industry into a more customer-centric and value-driven one enabled by technology.

The World Economic Forum confirmed that women are underrepresented within STEM-related fields, both in terms of visibility and pay. As a prolific female in technology, how do you think we can close the gender gap and create a more equal landscape?

This is a systemic issue that starts from childhood gender roles. I consider myself lucky to have been brought up in Finland, which is known for equality, and also in a family where gender was never a defining factor. I personally try to correct bias wherever I see it – even if it is uncomfortable – and try to enforce different kinds of thinking into the technology field to address diversity of experience in value creation. I believe if we start looking at diversity more from an experience or skills view rather than narrowing it down to a gender view, we might be able to create change quicker, as the topic is less sensitive and less polarised.

Your LinkedIn profile presents you as a ‘Proptech Humaniser’. Was it a conscious objective of yours to make smart technology more accessible?

Yes. I am known to always be the first person to shout out that technology on its own holds no value – value is always defined by the users. Therefore, adoption of technology is the key that we as an industry should focus on, instead of features or capabilities. It is not technology that disrupts markets, but customer adoption. In this respect, the built environment has a lot to learn from the consumer markets, and this is also where I derive my inspiration from. This means folding into discussions aspects like experience, human behaviour, psychology, etc.

Are we witnessing the end of a ‘bricks and mortar’ workspace culture?

The lines of the physical and digital are blurring as workspaces are less about the spaces but about the enablement to perform work. I think this is a great shift as we focus more on the work experience, irrespective of time and place, and success is more and more measured by outcomes and impact. While the physical workspace will remain to play a role, it is one of the enables for impact creation and should be repurposed accordingly. This requires transparency and actionable insights on the individual and aggregated preferences of the employees on HOW they want to use the physical spaces. Flexibility will become a key factor in supporting the physical office in becoming a personal choice over a professional obligation.

COVID-19 has bought about a sudden transformation of the workplace – do you think workplace technology was ready for these rapid changes?

The technology certainly was ready, we as humans were not. When speaking to a lot of our customers, the ones who had invested in smart technology pre-COVID-19 were better enabled to steer the transformation both from the user experience and space management aspects. We repurposed existing technology, e.g. our workplace application Comfy or our IoT solutions from Enlighted very quickly to address the new use cases brought by a pandemic, but the technology backbone behind was already existing. This brings me back to the topic of value creation – the same technology can create value when something in the environment shifts, as long as the focus is always on the user needs and actionable, value capturing data.

Looking to the future, which technologies do you see us adopting to better suit this new world of work?

I believe the sudden transformation was the proof point that was needed to convince even the biggest critics on the value of technology in creating workplace experiences. The question is not about which technologies we use, but HOW we use the technologies, Internet of Things becoming Internet of Experiences. I believe the focus should remain in creating a fluid transition between spaces and tasks for employees with reducing points of friction and in creating moments of delight to support innovation and creativity. I am a firm believer in holistic workplace solutions that simultaneously create value for a wide variety of stakeholders instead of niche solutions addressing only a single use case. This requires a platform approach by default which can then we used for employees to find the spaces/colleagues/information they need in real time, create a personalised environment that fosters their productivity and mitigate risk by “touchless” digital experiences and contact tracing.