Is the traditional office a thing of the past?

Avada News   •   June 2, 2016

Are offices an expensive unnecessary for small service businesses? Firstly there is the cost at a time of spiking rents, the nightmare that is the daily commute, and once your there, the wrench of endless, superfluous meetings that come with working in close proximity of colleagues. So ask yourself again: have offices become an obstacle for dynamic businesses wanting to display agility and accessibility in a fast flowing marketplace?

The traditional image of an office is of workers crammed tight in confined spaces, working in uniformity while the big overseer keeps watch over productivity levels. Yet even when offices have been reconceptualised as creative spaces – I am thinking here of open plan offices – they have been found to reduce productivity, distract workers, increase stress and anxiety levels, ratchet up high staff turnover and end up havens for sneaks and gossips.

It is the reason why lots of new businesses are now operating with no office space, and instead relying on a tight network of mobile colleagues to hold the business together. Technology is now making it increasingly easier to lead an active working life and yet keep up to date with developments, opportunities and general communication between colleagues.

Those who have chosen to operate without an office space all agree that it is imperative that communication and trust are prioritised in order to sustain continuity and awareness of where the business is going; however these companies all tend to employ workers with high passion for what they do, and so trust and productivity issues are rarely a problem.

They admit that not having premises can make them look unprofessional in the eyes of certain clients, yet they tend to quickly overcome this misconception once they explain that the client’s payment is always invested back into talent and projects, rather than sunken into property costs. They see that having this additional investment helps keep the company at the top of the curve through increased investment in talent and R&D activities.

So next time you’re sat in the office trying to tune out the shrieks of a giddy colleague or contemplating whether you have enough this month to pay for the plumber to fix the boiler in the staffroom, think about how you could be investing your time if you were able to permanently escape the four-walls surrounding you.

I read an article today discussing Automattic, a multi-million dollar start up in the US and the brains behind the website publishing tool, WordPress, and how it’s shutting its office. Not because it’s gone bankrupt but because on any given day there are more games machines than there are people in the office. Employees are allowed to work from home or the office and the majority decide to base themselves at home.As CEO Matt Mullenweg discussed, out of the 550+ staff only 30 live within commuting distance, the rest are spread over 50 countries, meaning on average there are just 5 people in the office each day.

With the office being so underutilised it makes sense to close it, not only will it substantially reduce overheads, it will have the added benefit of decreasing their carbon footprint. This move is the opposite of other tech giants. Yahoo for example in recent years forbade staff from working remotely. In my opinion, a rather odd move for such a technology focused organisation. But for many the thought of running a company without a ‘head office’ or even just an office, where everyone can congregate, where everyone can be seen to be working is an alien thought.

But fast-forward 10 or 20 years will we all be working from home?

The historic barriers to a totally remote workforce are slowly, or at times very quickly, being broken down by technological advances. Computers are shrinking in size while increasing in power, no need for a large cumbersome desktop machine. A small sleek laptop is more than powerful enough for most workers, allowing the freedom to work from anywhere. Internet connections are getting faster and WiFi is offered in most public places such as coffee shops, libraries etc… Mobile phones mean that you can speak to people no matter where you are and cloud based filing systems means everyone can access files and even collaborate on documents from anywhere.

As technology evolves then these tools will only help to make the home office the same as a traditional office. The main barrier now is one of attitude, as mentioned in one of my previous posts, there is still the overriding opinion that those working from home are skiving. That people can’t be trusted to get the job done if they aren’t being monitored.

This I believe is the main sticking point that is stopping most, especially larger organisations, from embracing the benefits that a more flexible working pattern can bring. It can help attract and retain staff, it means you can recruit the best people, no matter of location.
However, it’s not just leaders, for many workers the idea of being based at home permanently isn’t attractive and is often seen as being potentially isolating. Here in the UK, perhaps more so than in America or Europe, work is seen as much as a social activity as a business one. Most Friday nights (and perhaps Wednesday and Thursday too) will see colleagues socialising after work, lunch times are spent together, office banter is rife. For many their social interactions revolve around the office and their colleagues, and this is something they wouldn’t want to be without.

I’ve been working from home for nearly a year, I certainly don’t miss the commute and love the flexibility I’ve now got. I’ve built up good relationships with my new colleagues, would even call them friends. But I admit, it isn’t the same, and I do at times, miss having someone sat next to me to chat to. I also miss the air con, especially after this week’s record breaking weather!

To answer my own question will we all be working from home in 20 years? I personally think offices will be around for a bit longer, they’re the cornerstone of our corporate world and culture and a change of that magnitude will take a while. Imagine the our cities without the high-rise office blocks creating unmistakable skylines?
However, I do believe remote working will increase dramatically. I think, hope, it will become the norm to spend a couple of days a week working outside the office, that business leaders will learn to trust their employees to work un-monitored. That the next generation of workers will benefit from a more flexible working world where work and life can be better integrated.

By |2018-10-09T04:27:20+00:00July 6th, 2016|Creative|