We only need to go back a few centuries to find artisans, specialists working from home, in small communities, earning money from their skills and even bartering to exchange skills where relevant.
Then along came the industrial revolution that meant moving to cities for work, being paid by what you could do in an hour, and breaking jobs down into highly specialised, but not highly skilled elements. These ideas of proximity, presenteeism and the commoditization of the worker are still prevalent even today when we have moved back away from the industrial era to the digital age of choice, democracy and meritocracy.
In the digital age, we can almost transport ourselves to work in an instant by moving from the bedroom to the study. Even further than this though, we are almost ‘beamed’ into work by picking up our mobile device.
Through these devices, we can access and work on data, catch the latest updates, exchange information and video call the team. It is not matter transportation, but it is the next best thing (assuming matter transportation is a good thing, which, after The Fly, is far from certain).
However, we are social animals and for our own benefit and for best performance at work, we need to work physically together at least some of the time. So, how do we move the office closer to home?
There is already a trend in Bristol of turning empty office space into residential developments. The recession saw a lot of businesses moving out and the continuing development of residential may further encourage organisations to migrate. The Enterprise Zone by Temple Meads is also helping this process, moving business to the hub of the transport network – a logical step in the right direction.
We also have a lot of office space on the outskirts of the city which is handy for the motorway network, but not so handy if you live in the heart of the city. So, would it make sense to see more space in the suburbs, particularly the sort of space that agile workers need: fast, flexible and connected?
We already have a host of third places like cafes, libraries, community centres in the suburbs, but when these places are not quite suitable, we may see more touch-down space appearing: business centres, coworking spaces, business hubs providing a wide range of services.
Of course, we cannot beam ourselves to these spaces, but crucially neither do we have to take the car. Because we are working in the cloud and are not location dependent, we can choose the space to work from that is nearest to us. We get out, we mix, we work, and we choose where to work based on type of work, personality, time of day, mood and energy levels.
What this is about is not the death of the office or a completely virtual existence, it is about choice: making choices based on efficiency, personal taste and best practice for the whole team and the objectives at hand. And that freedom to choose has other benefits not just related to performance, but about health and happiness through balancing our work with family and social life and other interests.
We may not ever be able to beam up to work, but hopefully the importance of being at work in terms of a set location and set hours, will be replaced by the idea of being at work wherever and whenever you are.