Workforce Wanderlust

What will our work become in an itinerant world? British-Australian entrepreneur, Kate Kendall, weighs in.

Aaron Foley

Taking destiny into their own hands, digital nomads are finding they can control how, when and where they work. By 2020, this figure is projected to be 40% of the total workforce.

In this episode, we speak to Kate Kendall, CEO of freelance platform CloudPeeps, who sees this new interconnectedness as a gateway not just to a new way of working, but to understanding each other more deeply. 

The Where the World’s Moving podcast is a BBC Storyworks Commercial Production, presented by OFX.  It explores our ever-changing world, and how technological and social shifts are enabling collaboration, contribution, and human progress.

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Podcast Transcript 

Ross Dawson: Hello and welcome. I'm Ross Dawson, a futurist, speaker, and author, hosting   the Where The World's Moving podcast series, presented by OFX, the global money transfer specialist for Where The World Is Moving.

Ross Dawson:
Through this podcast series, we explore our fast moving, ever-changing world, and some of the extraordinary technological and social shifts that are shaping business and society, driving collaboration and globalization, and supporting human progress. To find out more about the exciting ideas in this podcast and the rest of the OFX series, go to WhereTheWorldsMoving.com.

Ross Dawson: There are now 7.6 billion people on the planet, triple the number from just 70 years ago. Most are living more densely than ever before. In 1950, 30% of the world's population lived in cities, but the figure today is now closing in on 60%. While this is largely driven by developing countries, we're also seeing urban pressures in developed countries.

Ross Dawson: For example, Australian was already one of the most urbanized countries in the world half a century ago, but Sydney is set to grow 75% over the 40 years to 2036, while Austin, Texas, has already doubled in size since 2000. These shifts are creating challenges to our ability to live sustainably. Of course, this has stimulated amazing human ingenuity, creating an array of possibilities, including co-living, modular dwelling, circular design, and much more.

Ross Dawson: We are very fortunate to have with us today Kate Ringvall, the sustainability manager for IKEA Australia, to give us insights into how we can live sustainably in this complex world. Welcome Kate.

Kate Ringvall: Hi Ross. Thank you very much for having me.

Ross Dawson: We have an incredible scope of urbanization around the world, driving massive change. For you, what are the most important implications of this shift to urbanization that we need to understand and acknowledge?

Kate Ringvall: It's a really good question and it's a focus for IKEA globally, and within Australia, about how do we meet the customer in particular? For obviously that's our main focus, is how do we meet the customer and particularly how do we meet the customer in this really changing environment in urban centres? Traditionally, IKEA has been on the outskirts of those urban centres, and now we're really facing a situation where our customers are wanting both a different retail environment, but they're also challenged by congestion, time constraints, and so Australia and IKEA has really focused on how do we meet the customer in a different way?

Kate Ringvall: So, looking far more at touchpoints in the city, making sure that we're online, that we're accessible in all the multitude of ways that we would expect to be able to shop, and really we're also looking at how do we meet the customer to understand much more about what are those challenges for being in a much more urbanized world?

Ross Dawson: One of the implications of this urbanization of course, we are becoming more and more dense. More and more people crammed into a smaller space. So, that changes our living spaces, and so what are the possibilities? What are the innovations and how it is we can live and be comfortable, as we live more and more densely?

Kate Ringvall:
Yes, it's been a question for much of what we do in IKEA is how do we continue to be relevant for the customers that we have and that we would like to attract and continue to attract to IKEA? As you say, we are urbanizing, we're becoming more dense, spaces are limited, and the research that we've done for our many sustainability reports tell us the same thing, that people really need to know how to live in those spaces in a comfortable way, and for us, we're in the business of furnishing.

Kate Ringvall: We're in the business of really excellent Swedish design, and our goal and our vision in IKEA is to bring that to the many people. If the many people are living in more dense spaces then we want to meet that challenge and reflect that.

Ross Dawson: This idea of sustainable living is something we're all embracing, but I presume that the attitudes to that are changing and different across different countries. I mean, have you got any insights through your organization or other research in different attitudes or differences in how we're seeing this shifts happening in different countries?

Kate Ringvall: I mean in Australia, we're gifted with this amazing amount of space that we have. Our cities are getting more dense for sure, but compared to places like Asia and some parts in Europe, we have more space than we know what to do with. We know in Asia it's definitely the case where places are getting more and more dense, congestion is getting harder to deal with, and spaces inside people's houses are getting smaller.

Kate Ringvall: The way that they deal with that depends on a lot of, culturally, how does that work for them? In Australia, we're so lucky that some of the spaces that we have are easy to access. Sustainable living is all about, definitely it's about making sure that we're using less and less energy and resources generally. People are really starting to question, "Am I doing the right thing?" I guess they're also asking the question, "Well, I actually don't know how to do this."

Kate Ringvall: Whether it be recycling, whether it be using less energy, whether it be being more active in their transport choices, people are recognizing that, "Okay, maybe I don't know everything and I'd like to know more." What we would like to do for our customers is to bring that knowledge and understanding to them. Whether it's through range or how we use the range, or how we speak to the market, there's definitely some room there for bringing understanding about how to live a more sustainable life to the many people.

Ross Dawson: Yeah, certainly as you say, not everyone knows and the education is a critical part of that process, so the people do, may have the right intent, but they do need to know how to best go about that.

Kate Ringvall: Yeah, and that's definitely what our research is reflecting.

Ross Dawson: Sustainable living, we're live, we're very dense, we've got more and more people, we want to be sustainable, so just looking around the world, what initiatives beyond your organizations have you seen which are exciting or interesting or inspired you?

Kate Ringvall:
There's so much going on. I mean, everything from on-demand small buses for small populations. Those are really exciting opportunities for connecting people but also connecting those sorts of resources in a really smart way. The ability to now connect with people online and through apps means that, "Okay, we've got to work harder at connecting but how amazing is it that we've got all of these opportunities?"

Kate Ringvall: The work that we've got a new sustainable store in Germany and they've really focused on connecting with the local community and making sure that the elderly are connected, that the elderly are connected with the school children, and that they're doing stuff, and they're learning tools, learning skills, and sharing those skills that they've probably had for a long time.

Kate Ringvall: Everything, the innovations that we're making in batteries for instance, and solar panels, means that the solar panels that we have on our store are vastly inferior to what's coming out now, and it requires less space, less energy to put up, and those are all amazing things. They will transform the way that we live in community.

Ross Dawson: You mentioned the on-demand small buses. Where is that happening?

Kate Ringvall: One of the places that is trialling it with a group called Liftango is in Melbourne. But I mean, there's plenty of other places, places in Colombia have trialed some amazing revolutions with how we meet the public for public transport. The new trams that we're building in Australia, they will make sure that people are able to move in far more efficient ways and reduce a lot of that congestion that really makes city living quite difficult.

Ross Dawson: We have to feel connected to nature in some way, even despite living in the center. It's nice to get out of the city when we can, but we can't always, so what can we do to be able to support that connection to nature, connection to the world around us?

Kate Ringvall: It's all about bringing nature inside. When you're limited in many of these places that are dense, bringing nature in is one of the best ways of actually connecting to nature and what's going on outside. In Australia, we're gifted with so many amazing natural spaces but we may not necessarily be able to get to them regularly. But how amazing is it to be able to have plants growing inside environment and reflecting back some good vibes, and some clean oxygen.

Ross Dawson:
Looking forward to tomorrow, are there any amazing technologies that we should be aware of? In terms of 3D printing or reconfigurable materials which might point the way to how we can do this in the future.

Kate Ringvall: We're constantly evolving and making sure that our designs are absolutely going to exist in the long term. That's one of our big goals. We're 75 years old this year and IKEA really wants to make sure that we're around for another 75 years, and so that means doing things like really considering do we still need that Allen key? The Allen key's the source of frustration for many people.

Kate Ringvall: One of the things that IKEA in Sweden have really focused on is how do we make sure that our furniture is easily assembled and reassembled? Looking at how do we get away from that need for tools? So making sure that the items that we are designing and building for the future can be taken down really quickly, can be put up really quickly, can be moved quickly.

Kate Ringvall: Then, the biggest goal for us is making sure that all of our products are made of renewable materials. We've made a goal globally and nationally we'll follow with that, that by 2030, we will be 100% circular. Really, what that means is making sure that everything that we do and all of the products that we produce and sell are transported and created in a way that means that we're using renewable materials as much as possible. We're constantly looking at new materials that we're using.

Kate Ringvall: We're combining recycled wood and recycled plastic now in some of our products, so the world really is our oyster, as far as that's concerned.

Ross Dawson: This idea of the circular economy is one of the important shifts to say we're moving towards no waste, being able to reuse what we have, and make that into a cycle. What are any other examples you might have seen or would point to around the shift to circular economy?

Kate Ringvall: It's definitely a big focus for many companies, and I think for those organizations and businesses that have really integrated sustainability, circular is the next move. It's really about how do we make sure that we have longevity? How do we make sure that the products that we make currently out of the raw materials, how do we make sure that those raw materials will continue to exist? For the really innovative companies, that's where you have to be going.

Ross Dawson: In terms of being able to use our resources better, I mean, one of the shifts has been towards localization, so how do we make our food locally? Or, how do we create energy locally or store that locally? I think it's one of the interesting shifts is as we get more and more people together, we're still pushing towards this localisation. Are there any examples that you can point to of this idea of localisation?

Kate Ringvall: Absolutely. In Australia, we're blessed with an abundance of fresh food. The beef that makes the meatballs that we sell in our stores, it all comes from Queensland. All of our fresh produce comes from local farms, and in particular in Richmond, we're trialling a more circular opportunity with dehydrating our organic waste. Every store in Australia, we divert our organic waste either to worm farms, to dehydrators that we have in-store, or to other organisations that will dehydrate that waste and process it.

Kate Ringvall: In Richmond what we're doing is actually dehydrating that organic waste locally in our store, and then sending it off to the farm that we then purchase that raw material, the green, fresh food back from them, and we make amazing food in our restaurant in Richmond.

Ross Dawson: Looking to the future, how far do you think this will go? Do you think we're going to do away with centralised energy and food production and resources? Or, how far can this actually go to be really local, self-sufficiency?

Kate Ringvall: I think it's really up to our imagination. I mean, as far as energy is concerned, if we got to a place where we could sell what excess energy we have, that would be amazing. If we could sell that to our customers. I mean, at the moment, we've got 20,000 solar panels on our stores and buildings on the Eastern Coast, and we're looking to expand that.

Kate Ringvall: Constantly looking to decrease our energy use, and if we had excess space to put more panels on, we could sell our excess energy to our customers. At the moment, the infrastructure to do that doesn't quite exist yet, but it's not far off. We're no longer just the big blue box on the edge of the city. We want to be part of the community and provide a bit of a hub. Whether it be bringing back your recyclable goods, or coming in and sharing time with like-minded people around circular and reuse and repair.

Ross Dawson: You mentioned community, and this is one of the tensions where a bit paradoxically, as more people come together and denser and denser living, it often feels less connected and people feel isolated in these cities. Community is about connection. What is it that we can do in communities to help foster this feeling of connection, this feeling of community, even as we're living more densely?

Kate Ringvall: You're right, Ross. One of the oxymorons of living in a more dense space is that we lose connection with our fellow community members. Our core value is togetherness, and really being responsible for ourselves and looking after each other. We want to be able to bring that to our customers and to our local community members. Whether it's facilitating groups that meet in the restaurant or organizing for community members to come and have a workshop at our store.

Ross Dawson: If you're enjoying this episode, listen to the rest of the OFX series at WhereTheWorldsMoving.com. What are the big trends moving forward? We've come along way, we've got more and more challenges and pressures, and we've come up with all sorts of ways to address this. So, looking forward, what do you think are going to be the big trends, the big actions that need to be taken? What are the directions from here so that we can actually make our living truly sustainable?

Kate Ringvall:
Look, I think circular is definitely the way forward. Different people will have a different approach to that and different organizations will approach that in varying ways, but for most of us, it'll be about reducing our energy use, reducing the waste. We have a massive problem with textile waste that currently we have very little in the way of solution. Our focus is on how do we make sure that the products that we produce today, how do we make sure that they'll be around tomorrow and that the raw materials that we use to make those products can continue? If we can make amazing products out of our waste recycling, how awesome would that be?

Ross Dawson:
What do you want our future to look like? What is a vision that's compelling?

Kate Ringvall:
For me, the future is definitely bright. If we continue to rely on asking that question of what is the best way forward? I think building communities that are for people, rather than cars, would be high on my list as well.

Ross Dawson:
Yes, I think people are somewhat more attractive than cars.

Kate Ringvall: Yeah, absolutely. Really focusing on what makes a city liveable. How do we want to be in our city? How do we want to encourage people to connect in those cities? That's a large conversation that requires significant attention. But that's what I would like our future to be.

Ross Dawson: If you are a large or small organization, thinking about how you do business, what is it that you can do to be able to make a difference as an organization to create a more sustainable country and city and citizenship?

Kate Ringvall:
My first ticket item would be develop a really good sustainability policy. Employ someone to integrate that, and really get all of your workers involved in that. Not just a top-down, "Here's a vision." Making sure that the whole organization is signed up and keen and ready to go, and that they're empowered. Then I guess it's the practical stuff. Reduce your energy use, reduce your resource use. Make sure that you have a plan for the future that includes reuse of materials. Using renewable energy as much as possible, and really looking at reducing the footprint of the organization and the employees.

Ross Dawson: One of the ideas which has got a lot of traction over the last decade is the sharing economy, and that relates to quite a few of the ideas you've mentioned, and some of it's a lot more simpler, being able to share the resources such as your car, or lawnmower, or other things of your neighbours. So, what role do you see in the sharing economy in being able to drive these initiatives forward?

Kate Ringvall:
Look, I think for IKEA, it's definitely part of what we will approach and do for the future. We've already started doing trialling a take-back service in our Sydney, Tempe store. Take-back is just one of those components of the sharing economy. For us, it's always a question of how do we make sure that our products can live a second life? Obviously making sure that we look after them, that they're built properly, that they're designed properly.

Kate Ringvall:
One of our Japan stores is looking at how do they create a leasing or a rental service for baby furniture? The baby furniture or the children's furniture, it has a short period where it's used, and then after that, you're upgrading to something a little bit bigger. What if you could rent that or lease it or hire it from your local IKEA store? What would that look like?

Kate Ringvall: The Japan stores are looking at how that works and how they might go forward with that. Other countries have also worked with rentals and taking back furniture as well. It's particularly pertinent for students who come to, for instance, Sydney for a couple of years and then they leave and they can't take that stuff back with them. They purchased it in the first place because it's good value, they can get it into their house, it's not too far away, but then what do they do with that when they have to leave? We will be looking at how we approach that in the future.

Ross Dawson: In terms of inspiration, you've been inspired by many others, just in terms of just people or companies or initiatives, what springs to mind?

Kate Ringvall: That's such a large question. Look, I'm inspired by lots of things. Certainly the way that housing and how we build housing is really, really inspiring to me. Reusing shipping containers I think is amazing, and being able to update and reuse furniture. I think that's amazing. Being able to get something that someone else has decided is rubbish and updating it and giving it a new lease on life. That's gold. People love doing that.

Ross Dawson: I think the container one is beautiful, and there's also this idea of tiny houses.

Kate Ringvall: Tiny houses, I love that. Yeah, absolutely.

Ross Dawson: What do these trends say about the way in which we want to live? Are these just because we have to, or is this because we see these possibilities?

Kate Ringvall: Yeah, look I think it really speaks to this notion that we're getting much more focused about spending time with the people that we love. And realistically looking at how much space do we actually need to be comfortable? I think for many people, they're really seeing that we actually don't need a lot of space. We don't need a lot of space, and we don't need a lot of stuff.

Kate Ringvall: What we need is to buy things that are really valuable, that they've been designed really well, and they've been made really well, and that they'll last, and that they fit and that they are functional in the small space that I might have. I think people are much more open to this idea that I want to experience things rather than just have things. It's much better for me and for my family and for the planet if I experience this thing with other like-minded people, and that brings in the whole idea about sharing things.

Kate Ringvall: If I can share this more expensive item with a whole number of people, rather than me just owning this bit of whatever that sits in my shed three quarters of the year, and I only use once a year, why not share that? I think people are much more open to that.

Ross Dawson: That's a really interesting point. I mean, some decades ago we talked about being, rather than having. So, we lived for a long time in a very material society, and I wouldn't say we're necessarily still quite material, but maybe we are shifting away.

Kate Ringvall: Yeah, I think we're getting much more savvy about if I'm going to purchase something, I want to make sure that I know where it's come from, who's made it, how they've made it, what it's been made of. Then, is that item designed for the long term, and can it have a couple of lifetimes? Will it be adaptable in this new space that I have that's probably smaller? I think those are the forces that will change the way that we live.

Ross Dawson: Are there new technologies that can help us know where things have come from, or who's worked on it, or how it will fit within a space?

Kate Ringvall: QR codes are amazing. It's on your mobile, it's on your laptop, it's on your computer, it's on your iPad. You can access with that QR code, you can access all of the information that might be available on that particular product. At IKEA, we're really keen to harness that kind of tool for educating our customers about where our products come from, who's made that product, why is it important to us, what we've done to make sure that it's made of renewable materials and all of those conversations you can put in a QR code. I mean, how amazing is that?

Kate Ringvall: 3D printing will absolutely revolutionize how we meet the customer for spare parts. How amazing would it be if you move something, you move a couple of times and you've dropped or lost that one vital piece in your furniture, how amazing would it be to come to your local store and say, "Hey, look I've dropped this or I'm missing this. Can you make me one right now?" I mean, those are revolutionary technologies that are coming.

Ross Dawson: Some of them are here, some of them coming.

Kate Ringvall: Absolutely.

Ross Dawson: All of us, I think you referred earlier to imagination, and the power of imagination, being able to do this. In looking forward to a world of sustainable living in cities, in Australia, around the world, what would describe that world to you in just a few words?

Kate Ringvall: Look, I think adaptability, flexibility, those are key. Functionality. Form and function, they have to go hand-in-hand. I think you can have beauty in that as well.

Ross Dawson: We'd hope so.

Kate Ringvall: I think so. We would think so at IKEA, anyway. And making sure that we're connecting to community and to nature. It has to be that whole picture.

Ross Dawson: Yeah, I'm sure you are working hard to help create that vision.

Kate Ringvall: I do my best.

Ross Dawson: Wonderful to hear your insights, what you are doing, and serving as inspiration for others to be able to help all of us shift towards a more sustainable living. Thank you so much for your time. Great pleasure to speak with you, Kate.

Kate Ringvall: Thanks Ross. That's awesome.

Ross Dawson: To find out more about how OFX is helping their customers move money around the world, go to OFX.com. This podcast is presented by OFX. It is a BBC StoryWorks commercial production.

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