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oseland

Workplace Blog

A blog of all things workplace related (when I get time).

© Oseland 2011

The Office of the Future: Smaller & Distributed

WorkPosted by Oseland Fri, October 28, 2011 18:40:21

This is a blog I recently made on behalf of 2degrees.

We all know the old adage “work is an activity not a place”. Due to emerging technology, particularly wireless networks and digital storage, we are no longer dependent on attending the office and can work at home, in arbitrary places – such as the café, library, clubs-hubs-pubs – and on the move. But the technology we have seen so far is just the start. Computing power is increasing exponentially and dramatically reducing in price, while the internet, wireless networks, cheap laptops and smart phones mean that we are now all connected in and out of work, locally and globally.

But work is not just about computer usage, it involves networking, meetings and creative thinking. Currently most of us in the UK work within the service industry, but we are entering a new industrial age, one of creativity and innovation. For UK plc to stay ahead we have to move towards an innovative and creative based industry.

I believe that providing space for interaction and collaboration will lead us to economic recovery, not processing information at rows of desks. Of course work is not just limited to the office and creative work is actually best performed away from it. Original ideas tend to break through when taking a bath, doing exercise or in the bar with colleagues. Google introduced a contemplation area - with baths - into their offices, but places outside the usual workplace, those that facilitate “non-taxing involuntary attention”, are the most effective in problem solving and ideas generation.

We are social animals that can’t work in isolation indefinitely and seek social interaction. Face to face interaction is fundamental for communication, particularly non-verbal, so perhaps offices are needed for this interaction. However, technology and its end-users are changing. New technologies make virtual interaction more life-like. The business case can easily be made for introducing full virtual systems to reduce overseas travel but virtual interaction is also becoming cheaper, easy to use and portable, such as Skype and Face Time. The next generation of workers will not only differ in their attitude to work, but also in the tools they use, the way they interact, and the way they do business. By 2030 the workplace will be predominantly occupied by Gen-Y/Millennials with the Gen-X in decline, the Gen-Z/Net-Gen coming through and ‘baby boomers’ a distant memory.

Add to all this positive change our poor transport infrastructure, unpredictable economic cycles and recurring business disruption (through inclement weather, security scares and health pandemics), and it is evident that the office will not continue to be the first port of call for work. Flexible working is rapidly becoming the norm and it is not just restricted to a few enlightened organizations. It is now an acceptable strategy across all sectors. Indeed, when the US government came to a standstill last winter, President Obama hosted a series of forums on Workplace Flexibility at the White House.

It is often argued that offices haven’t changed much since the turn of twentieth century, when the introduction of typewriters and the Dictaphone resulted in the desk-bound model we are familiar with today. But of course the office is constantly evolving; consider how the London skyline has changed over last 10 years. Consider all the new workplaces where the percentage of space for interaction and collaboration, contemplation and socializing, or for quiet work and private conversations, has gradually increased over time. But despite these obvious visual changes to the workplace, for me it is the things that we can’t see that have changed the most – the technology infrastructure; the building services; the way that buildings are managed; and most importantly the way they are used. And it is these invisible things that are changing the most rapidly and will have the biggest impact on the workplace.

I believe that the workplace will always consist of a variety of places that offer connectivity, and support different work activities. In addition I would also assert that ‘the office’ itself will become smaller and distributed – a hub or guild for like-minded people to network, socialize, share knowledge and test ideas.

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