Are offices a thing of the past?

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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.

 

Maybe by the year 2080 we’ll all be in virtual offices with holographic colleagues sat next to us! Who knows!

Written by Verity Morrish, Marketing Manager

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