Will evolution of mobile technology replace the need for office buildings?
Colliers International Workplace Strategist David McEwen gives five reasons why technology is no substitute for going into work.
In this era of mobile technology, which gives us the ability to work any place, any time, some wonder if the office building has a viable future. It's been demonstrated by the likes of Macquarie Bank, GPT, Commonwealth Bank and a growing number of others that a corporate can fairly easily reduce its office size by about 20 per cent by moving towards non-territorial seating.
Add in a culture of working from home, so-called third spaces (and/or from clients' premises) as the likes of Cisco and other major technology firms do, and those firms are getting by with as little as half the space they used to use.
Is there a future where a majority of office workers spend most of their time away from the workplace? If so, it probably won't be any time soon. Here are five reasons the workplace is here to stay:1. It's harder to innovate alone
Organisations like Google have come out in recent months praising the impacts of colocation of staff on their businesses' ability to innovate and remain agile in the face of ever increasing competition. In Google's case they've created a compelling office experience: their staff want to spend time there. The power of a well-designed office environment in facilitating serendipitous encounters and spontaneous interactions of staff (in addition to more formal meetings) has not yet been matched by virtual forms of communication.2. People need company
For many people, their work is in part a social activity. We develop friendships in the workplace and often enjoy the company of the people with whom we work. Social relationships build common ground and trust, which is critical in the development of professional relationships. For some people the thought of working alone from home is inconceivable because they need social interaction throughout the day.3. There's no distraction like home
Some people find it difficult to work outside the office for a variety of reasons. Some need the structure imposed by the office environment (or regular supervision) to help them focus on their work; for others the environment at home is the problem: not everyone can afford a pleasant and well equipped home office and the demands of young children can also make working from home difficult (even when one is not the primary carer).4. People trust colleagues they can see
Performance measurement is a tricky subject and many managers aren't well equipped to handle virtual teams. Many work from home schemes fail due either to a manager's mistrust of their team members' work ethic or the team's mistrust that their manager will fully appreciate their effort and contribution if they're not present. Out of sight is out of mind and many managers and staff still rely on presenteeism as a key performance indicator. Even with enlightened management, studies have shown that the negative perceptions of office-bound peers about their offsite colleagues' productivity puts many people off the idea of working from home.5. Workplaces connect people with company
We like to think of a company's offices as a container of its organisational culture. The symbology of an office environment and the way it incorporates branding and graphic content can help cement employee's sense of identity with the organisation. Informal team functions, training and so on will continue to be organised around the concept of the office.
A key takeaway, however, is this concept that people will increasingly be able to choose to be in the office only some of their working time. This creates issues around whether people remain entitled to dedicated resources like work stations or enclosed offices. We think many offices will be downsized as a result.
In turn this necessitates setting policies around the commonality and separation of working times, to ensure on the one hand that the collaborative benefits of the office are maximized (it's no point forcing people into an office to interact if half the people they might need to see aren't there at that time); and on the other hand that office resources are not over-subscribed. BiographyDavid McEwen is a management consultant working at the intersection of workplace strategy, sustainability and technology. He has worked with companies including Macquarie Group, Westpac Banking Group, Perpetual, Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Nine Network on workplace and data centre strategies that improve business performance, employee engagement and sustainability metrics. He regularly delivers research presentations at finance, property and technology industry forums and advises Government policy-makers on sustainability and technology. For more insights from David connect with him on LinkedIn.www.colliers.com.au