A wooden desk, with a stack of piled books beside a laptop.

Is the office of the future really an office?

Typing pools, cubicles and lighting up a cigarette at your desk – thankfully these are all office relics of the dim and distant past. Every generation has seen the light and consigned its more uncomfortable ways of working to the murky depths of history, but are we staring at a future where the very concept of the office itself is something we can do without?

It’s only been since the 1980s that businesses have placed serious focus on organisational culture, the ways in which we conduct our daily work and its effect on commercial success. The thirty years that have followed have seen us reach a time in history that so closely analyses the how, why and where of people’s working lives, that we know more than ever about what motivates us, and in turn makes us productive.

Indeed, even in VIEW we regularly talk about the teamwork wins and new tech approaches that businesses need to be successful – but there is one recurring theme that we cannot ignore: The rise of the remote worker. It seems that no matter how many office perks and downtime quirks a business employs, nothing boosts productivity like ‘working from home’. Does this really mean that we can dispense with offices altogether? Some companies have already happily taken the leap to an all-remote workforce and, for small businesses in particular, removing the overhead of a commercial property sounds like a dream come true. But before you start deleting the numbers of property managers from your phone, there are a few questions that need to be asked…

We know more than ever about what motivates us, and in turn makes us productive

What does working together look like?

It goes without saying that when colleagues work in the same building, talking is as easy as strolling from one part of the office to another. Many organisations are playing an active part in making it easier for people to spend time together, by removing walls to open up spaces and creating comfortable ‘collaboration areas’, but this openness comes with a price – noise and distraction. Are the benefits of free face-to-face communication outweighed by the cost to productivity in other areas?

Naturally, tech has a solution. Collaboration tools are commonplace and designed to bring disparate teams together. From the basic (think Google Docs) to complex enterprise level tools, there’s a solution out there to suit pretty much every business – it’s certainly not a ‘one size fits all’ affair. And while these tools are generally designed to be used in an office context, when you discover that they significantly improve team efficiency, you have to wonder if that suite of comfortable breakout couches was worth the money after all? All joking aside, how organisations address their teamworking challenges is ultimately a matter of balance – between business-centricity, working culture and the needs of the company.

Can we talk about productivity?

Workplace productivity is something of a concern among business leaders and many debates have been had and proposals put forth on the subject of improving employee output. Traditionally, an office environment lends itself well to progress monitoring and checking in with teams, but as productivity has been consistently at a lull since 2010, is there a better way?

Project management tools are nothing new, but todays cloud-based PM software is designed to help multi-location teams have real visibility of deadlines, stay on top of their work and to achieve their goals. Project success rates soar when this kind of software is used, so it represents a good investment and an effective way to monitor performance and productivity. Everyone’s a winner.

 A pair of hands writing in a notebook, on a wooden table, a croissant and coffee are placed nearby, within reach.
Are coffee shops the new office for ‘everywhere workers’?

How do we feel a sense of belonging?

Many of the older among us equate a sense of belonging with physical presence – colleagues alongside one another, with a common goal. But who isn’t part of an online community these days? Everywhere you look, there are people engrossed in phones, tablets and laptops.

Kay Sargeant of HOK, writing for Sage, identifies “five things that really matter” when you’re creating a great workplace: an agile environment, connected community, co-working space and purpose. All of which are entirely possible to achieve in an all-remote workforce, simply by using the appropriate technology. Video conferencing, for instance, already connects colleagues around the world – whether that’s from a coffee shop in London or a hotel in Bali. And while it does have its quirks (“Hi, can you hear me?”), it won’t be long before the holy grail of 5G turns the humble conference call into something altogether more immersive. Imagine, if a Virtual Reality meeting can bring everyone together in a lifelike simulated office, do you even need a real one?

Is what you feel down to where you are?

Thinking back to our previous article on teamworking, Business Psychologist Joy Palfery refers to the ‘80:20 Rule’, “If a team can spend 80% of their time working in a way that’s familiar and comfortable – to their strengths and their preferences – then they have so much more creative problem-solving energy to devote to work.” When employees have the freedom and tools to work in their own way, their personal satisfaction grows – and this directly translates into productivity gains for businesses.

For most enterprises today, this is a combination of office-based and remote workers, using shared technologies to meet their objectives from the location that suits them best. It’s an interesting period in history and one that offers companies a tremendous amount of freedom to decide what kind of workplace they want to offer and whether they need four walls to make their business a success at all.

Written by Daniel Woodstock

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