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Are we the last generation to need an office?

OfficeThe Internet is the most powerful force behind making traditional work practices and ‘the office’ less relevant. High speed connectivity and powerful software have the potential to render bus rides, train crushes and coffee queues in order to arrive at the office a thing of the past. Much of this is happening now. Today’s workforce could be the generation that pioneer ‘bleisure’ – a combination of business and leisure which irrevocably blurs the lines between home and work life, and if that happens, then what happens to the office as we currently know it?

A recent report by Jones Lang LaSalle showed that within most organisations, staff desks are utilised just 60% of the time, with the other 40% spent in collaboration spaces or out with clients. In this environment people don’t even get a desk to call their own and companies are benefiting from it from needing less office space.

Coupled to this is the fact that millennials don’t want to spend their day in an office if they don’t have to. As they seek to balance life style with work style, the office environment may not be the best place to do that.

The ‘office’ of the future could be your home, your coffee shop, a library or a public park; and might be required to function in multiple ways as a touch down space, a collaboration space, a space where things can be built, a meeting place and more.

OfficeAs this new model for work emerges, the technology driving this movement forward is becoming more powerful. Technology will soon make it entirely possible to enter the board room for a conference, face to face, with clients and colleagues from around the globe, while you’re still at home. Virtual Reality (VR) goggles can readily provide this capability. The time, cost and stress of business travel will be eliminated. Artificial Intelligence (AI) could take care of most mundane tasks that don’t require emphatic thought processes. Emails will be automatically read and filtered, with only the most important ones being discussed with you.

What’s more, your AI device will provide details on each person you meet instantly, informing you of both their personal and professional information. In this world you’ll have the capacity to be more collaborative and innovative than ever before, with the ability to ‘see’ what those in the physical world are doing and communicate with them whenever you need to, including ‘seeing’ what is happening on a project site or in your retail outlet and ‘popping in’ to take care of things without physically being there. You’ll print what you need to work by downloading a design from the cloud and using a 3D printer to manufacture it.

Within this scenario, innovating will be more important than ever before. If mundane tasks are taken care of, the challenge to all workers will be to find new ways to add additional value. This will place a greater demand on workers to create more value for customers. Intelligence and innovation will become the ‘natural resource’ that companies must leverage to create competitive advantage. We have seen technology already displace and challenge many blue collar work environments. It would be naïve to think that similar disruption won’t occur to white collar work environments, particularly, when millennials are demanding this new balance.

Critically, if we are on the cusp of another workplace revolution, it is important that we contemplate its impact . There is a need for businesses to begin to ponder how the way we work will change; the effects on staff and the need to adjust their resourcing strategies. Uber’isng the office work force is literally just around the corner.

The first to make these changes and take advantage of an enhanced focus on intelligence and innovation will be the winners in this volatile and competitive environment. Building owners and tenants of commercial offices, too, will be amongst a very broad range of stakeholders who will be effected by this revolution – and will need to plan for it.

Very clearly, there’s currently no telling where this revolution will end. What is certain is that companies that succeed at anticipating this revolution will enjoy unmeasured success as their teams are encouraged to reach their potential, and as idea generation and better thinking explodes across their organisation.

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20 replies »

  1. IF this is right it’s just another way of down scaling the work force and making more jobs redundant. (no offices needed no buildings needed, no designers, no engineers no builders etc. etc. ) I would like to know the percentage of actual works to people out of work in say 20 yrs time. And who’s going to pay the bills.

  2. Reminds me of the recent move of Canberra office. There were some shenanigans with the end-off lease, where the previous lessees assumed that we could not work without an office. They were proven wrong as staff made do with a combination of temporary offices, site offices and working from home.

  3. I love this idea. I think an office is still required part of the time, but definitely not 100%. With flexible work hours and hot desks, you could definitely downsize your required office space…..

  4. When debating the possible futures of virtual workforce with my peers, there is often times they refer to the lack of success that Google experienced when trying to move their work force to virtual environments. I attribute this to the fact that the remuneration model did not evolve to meet the new environment. We need to consider that, with the shift to virtual workforce, comes the need to pay for delivery on task, on time and at an agreed quality, rather than paying for hours.

  5. Totally agree there will be a reduced need for offices as we know them. Probably hubs for meetings where people from the same company can meet at least once a fortnight.

    I am now working more from home albeit I think I need more discipline in working hours. I am one of those people who will overwork and often find I am clicking up 12 hour days.

    Home offices need investment from corporations too to make sure health and safety obligations and requirements are being met.

    This will lead rise to the roving HSE or OHS role in organisations. People will need more help in working safely and efficiently at home.

  6. For many people the office is one of very few social environments they have access to. In an age when too often we hear people are feeling dislocated, isolated or separated from a sense of comunity or team-ship do we really want to cease to shake hands or look a team member in the eye. When we cease to interact physically when will we build the sense of “being part of the team” that sucessful businesses thrive on and that a happy employee will strive to succeed in? Perhaps the challenge is too focussed on what the employee can do for the business than what value the business places on its employees?

    • There is still an important need for people to connect with each other face to face. But is social isolation necessarily the outcome of a reimagined work space of the future? We will have to design it to ensure that that is NOT the case.

      There will always be a need for a hub where people and teams can come together for face to face engagement. In a business to business organisation perhaps we will see smaller ‘front of house’ offices where meetings with clients, business partners, potential recruits, suppliers etc take place. The major universities often have CBD front of house offices for just this purpose.

      And perhaps in major centres there might even be multiple hubs located across a City or region; perhaps more closely located with clients, industry, the tertiary sector? But perhaps the very large (and expensive) CBD office for businesses will morph into something different reflecting the greater mobility and flexibility of the workforce of the future.

  7. Over the years I have watched some very talented individuals leave engineering because there was no flexibility in the workplace. Imagine where we would be now if we had ‘in-house’ childcare (something that many are still chasing)? The ability to work from home has been an option for 30 years for most people but suddenly because one generation is not happy to work in a single environment, we are going to change the rules?
    Technology doesn’t make flexible workplaces happen; people do.

  8. Even further to this….do we even need to remain as a fixed company?
    Why not just contract skills as required for specific jobs?
    As is done on UpWork and

    Pretty soon we might not even need formal association as a company, but just as independent designers/engineers/draftsmen/planners, who compete with other associations across the world on any type of work offered by any client.

    Our “Brand” will be less important and we will be chosen based on price and on how many ‘likes’ we have from other employers/Clients (like other basic service providers: AirBnB, Couchsurfing, Uber, etc.).

    The future Client is me. And I happily get in an Uber because I know the Driver has a 4-star rating by other passengers. And he’s cheaper than the other “Brands” of taxis.

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  13. We are the first generations that have truly had the opportunity to end poverty, and we are the last generations to be able to stop climate change.

  14. I knew after I joined that is was a good program, but I also knew
    that at some point I was going to outgrow it and need something more advanced.
    But since most consumers want to get the feel of the item they wanted to buy, it became a must that
    at least there are physical stores that will satisfy the demands of
    the consumers. Internet creat many conveneince and unlimited possibility.

  15. ask yourself the percentage of employees at Microsoft or Google that ‘telecommute’.
    I’m guessing at least 95% still work in their company’s offices.
    Ever since domestic connection speeds went faster than 56k we have been promised ability to work from home (more free time, less pollution etc)
    50 years on and there is still no base on the moon. I can safely assume we will drive, cycle catch a bus or train for the next 15 years as well.

  16. I worked on the design of a building in Cairns in 1999. My team was spread between London, LA, Brisbane and Cairns. We made this work with FTP servers and email. I worked from a desk in the corner of my bedroom. It’s not just the millenials that want this to work, even oldies like me like it.

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