Sitting at your desk all day, working 9 – 5 Monday to Friday, seeing the same people every day, commuting in and out during rush hour, missing important time with your family. Who needs that?
Well, it may surprise you that many do, but more of that later.
The office in your head
In the industrial age, the office or factory was sacrosanct. The work could not be done elsewhere, as even when there was no manual labour involved, there was nevertheless a great deal of activity using equipment that was far from mobile.
Think early typewriters, early telecoms and even early computers, not to mention the huge amounts of paper needing to be filed.
In this environment, the time you spent at work was how you were measured and how you were paid. Then came the division of labour and jobs were broken down into the most rudimentary segments and repeated endlessly.
These days, work is far more in our heads. Both because a great deal of work now is knowledge work, rather than any kind of production, and because technology (mobile and cloud) gives us easy access to all our work, and the whole world’s work, to tap into wherever we are, whenever we want.
A virtual office
We offer a virtual office service at the Centre; by which we mean a mailing address and/or a telephone answering service. There are other elements to it, but this is the main thrust. And that’s fine, but a virtual office now can be so much more.
Your data need not be on any machine or device that you control and have to worry about – it can be on somebody else’s machine, often for free, who promises to have all the information you have stored there available constantly, all the time and for all time.
You no longer need a direct, physical connection to communicate. With email, mobile phones, text, skype, twitter and hundreds more, you can communicate with millions, all over the planet.
You don’t even need a business card. Our online profiles can be so comprehensive now that many are beginning to think they don’t need anything physical to tell people who they are.
The redundant office
The office that people need now is a much more moveable feast. The key is flexibility. Whether you are a freelancer or work for a large corporate, you need to work, meet clients, collaborate, network and build relationships.
For larger businesses, office space can act as a hub of information and default centre for many activities, with those not permanently based there augmenting this with working from home, clients, cafes, etc.
For micro businesses, they may not even need the central office. It depends on size and personalities, but the whole business can be run on the hoof: home, café’s, meeting rooms, and more.
So, who does want to stay in the office?
As I mentioned earlier, while the commute, regularity and missing family moments may be problems, many people still would not work from home.
In a recent study, call-centre workers in China were offered the opportunity to work from home. Those who volunteered for the experiment were randomly split; some to work at home and a control group to stay in the office.
The experiment was successful (the full details are here), but what was interesting was that half the home-working group and over half of the control group changed their minds about wanting to work from home.
The experience of the first group led them to re-evaluate their suitability for home-working and the control group cited concerns about isolation among other issues even though they had not experienced the situation first hand..
Whatever we say about the traditional office environment, there is no doubt that it suits many to work that way. It also provides a communal base for knowledge share, idea generation, social interaction and relationship-building. However, that does not mean the office cannot be made a more exciting, vibrant and fluid place to work and to inspire and be inspired.
For others who are suited to agile working, especially younger generations who have grown up in a mobile, always-on-always-connected world, the office may seem anachronistic.
At this moment in time, I cannot envision the end of the office, but in 50 years time – or 500 – who knows? Perhaps the office will no longer be required. I am only glad I don’t have to worry about it just yet.