Boardroom briefing: Pacific climate refugees, open-plan failures, supermarkets of the future


UN ruling addresses rising sea levels in the Pacific Islands, open plan offices result in less interaction and the future of retail tech. Readings from around the world on business, leadership and management.

Climate refugees cannot be sent home – UN


Pacific Islanders could face more climate-change induced floods.

A landmark decision by the United Nations Human Rights Committee has ruled it unlawful to return people to countries that are adversely affected by the ongoing climate crisis, a move that will resonate around the Pacific.

The precedent-setting ruling was made in response to the case of Ioane Teitiota from Kiribati, one of the first nations in our region to be hit hard by rising sea levels. Teitiota is fighting deportation from New Zealand where he sought refuge in 2013 claiming he and his family had been displaced by the poor conditions caused by rising sea levels in his home of Tarawa.

Tarawa has seen overcrowding and social disorder since the population exploded as locals fled from lower-lying islands where sea water is poisoning crops and making fresh drinking water scarce.

Amnesty International hailed the decision and said it acknowledges the current issues facing the Pacific nations. ‘The message is clear: Pacific Island states do not need to be under water before triggering human rights obligations to protect the right to life,’ said Kate Schuetze, Pacific Researcher at Amnesty International.

The UN judgement is seen as a tipping point where climate refugees become more than just a theoretical future. Tens of millions of people are expected to displaced as a result of climate change in the coming decades and the Pacific is likely to be at the forefront of this humanitarian challenge.

The truth about open offices

Open offices haven’t been as welcoming and open as designers expected. Credit: Unsplash

Open offices have been touted as more flexible, activity-based work spaces for years. The idea was that, when staff are more visible to each other, they will become more accessible and the level of collaboration will rise.

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But according to an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), it routinely does not produce the desired outcomes.

‘The evidence suggests they [open offices] are producing behaviours at odds with designers’ expectations and business managers’ desires,’ say writers Ethan Bernstein and Ben Waber in their article.

‘In a number of workplaces we have observed for research projects or consulting assignments, those structures have produced less interaction – or less meaningful interaction, not more. People who want to eschew interactions have an amazing capacity to do so. They avoid eye contact, discover an immediate need to use the bathroom or take a walk, or become so engrossed in their tasks that they are selectively deaf [perhaps with the help of headphones].’ The HBR article found that when firms switched to open offices, face-to-face interactions fell by 70 per cent.

Supermarkets of the future

Brian Bell distribution centre.

‘I have no doubt in the next 10 years, customers will be able to take the product off the shelf, put it in their basket, walk out and have it all paid for,’ Greg Davis, Head of Commercial and Express at Australian retail giant Coles told the Sydney Morning Herald.

In the US, Amazon Go stores are already pioneering this approach to retail – you can only enter a store if you have their app on your smartphone and they already have your payment method on file. Once in, you are free to help yourself to any produce and simply walk out, with technology recording what you have removed from the shelf and automatically charging it to your Amazon account.

In 2009, just one percent of Coles’ 800 stores in Australia had a self-service option; now almost all of them do.

It may be a while before we see a fully automated Stop N Shop or Brian Bell, but the global trend towards technology-driven self-service seems inescapable.

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