I started my “proper” working career (after some military service which included being a professional musician, some student type part-time jobs and early entrepreneurial activity) at KPMG in the early 1990s. I joined the audit group, and was shown a corner of the 32nd floor of the Carlton Centre (Africa’s tallest building). But there was no desk for me. Before the term had been coined, we were hot-desking at KPMG. But mainly we were out at clients, doing audits. So we didn’t need offices. But all the partners and directors had offices (as well as designated parking bays, which us lowly clerks didn’t get at all).
As the last two decades have rolled on, it has become more and more clear that very few of us need offices. I am not just talking about moving to open plan, but about abandoning the concept of offices all together.
As an aside, when I think of offices, I cannot help but think of the great movie, “Office Space” – one of my all time favourites – which was a parody of the worst of office life. And then Ricky Gervais came up with “The Office” series – a cringe-inducing look at bad managers and the effect they have on an office. Still worth watching. And although both of these are ridiculously over-the-top, they showed up some of the worst of office life and reiterated for me the pointless of the office.
An article in Forbes neatly encapsulates this thought, arguing that there are at least eight key reasons why we don’t need offices.
Read the article at Forbes’ website, or an extended extract below:
8 Indisputable Reasons Why We Don’t Need Offices
by Jacob Morgan, Forbes, 10/01/2013
Looking back a decade or so ago it was absolutely essential to have an office, or more likely, a cubicle. That’s where we had meetings, saw our coworkers, and just got work done. But today do we really need corporate offices? New technologies allow us to “connect to work,” meaning that all we need to get work done is an internet connection. Employees are working from co-working spots, cafes, and home offices all over the world without ever having to step foot into a corporate office. In fact the 2013 Regus Global Economic Indicator of 26,000 business managers across 90 countries, revealed that 48% of them are now working remotely for at least half of their work-week.
There are 8 reasons why our reliance on corporate offices is dwindling.
New technologies are allowing employees to “connect to work,” meaning that the only thing we need to get our jobs done is an internet connection. From there we can access all the people and information we need to do our jobs. We can have virtual meetings, create assets (documents, presentations, or anything else), get updates from our team, and stay connected to our global workforce without daily face to face interaction. Additionally collaborative technologies allow us to work while we are on the go from our mobile devices.
New generation of workers
Millenialls are projected to be the majority of the U.S. workforce by 2020–just a few years away. This is a generation that is used to being connected. Millenialls grew up with social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google and they are comfortable sharing and engaging with people and information; it’s a part of our daily life. This is a generation that doesn’t know what it’s like to get 200 emails a day while sitting in a cubicle. Organizations need to adapt to this employee.
A more attractive workplace
Chances are that if you were to ask someone if they would rather work from an office or from their home, they would say their home (or co-working spot). In a recent report released by my company Chess Media Group we found that 90% of workers believe that an organization offering flexible work environments is more attractive than an organization that does not. For organizations that want to attract and retain top talent it almost seems essential that employees not be required to work full-time from an office.
Companies save money
Companies spend a massive amount of money on real estate space to house their employees. TELUS, a telecommunications company based in Canada has a global goal of making a majority of their workforce work remotely either full-time or part time. They want to get rid of some of their massive buildings that they are spending a large amount of money on. Companies also have to spend money on office equipment, internet, amenities, and a host of other things. Depending on the size of the company the potential cost savings here is in the millions per year for a single company.
Employees save time
Commuting is a big issue for many employees around the world. According to a report from the United States Census Bureau 600,000 employees in the U.S. travel 90 minutes and 50 miles to work (each way) and 10.8 million employees travel an hour each way. Can you imagine spending 10-15 hours in your car each week just driving? That’s almost a part-time job in your car. You can play around with various scenarios here to figure out how much money is being wasted each year on commuting but the number can easily reach the billions especially when considering other costs such as gas.
Employees are more productive
There are numerous reports which cite the fact that employees who work from home are actually more productive then those who work from an office. Global Workplace Analytics has perhaps the most comprehensive set of data around this with numbers ranging from 600 billion dollars which are wasted each year on workplace distractions to figures showing that national productivity would increase by $334 billion to $467 billion a year through telecommuting.
Improved quality of life for employees
A few years ago researchers at Umea University in Sweden found that “couples in which one partner commutes for longer than 45 minutes are 40 percent likelier to divorce.” Work is already one of the leading causes of stress for employees and on top of that we throw on the stress that comes from commuting. Employees could spend that time working or being with family members or loved ones instead of sitting in a car.
As mentioned above, any location is now a potential workplace; this includes a home office, a coffee shop, or any other location where you can get an internet connection. Over the past few years we have also seen the rapid emergence of co-working spaces where employees from different companies can rent desks or offices near where they live (or where it is convenient for them). These co-working spaces are equipment with conference rooms, kitchens, and oftentimes more amenities then a traditional corporate office. In addition, some companies are renting out their excess offices to employees of other companies.
We don’t need to look farther than our personal lives to see why working from an office isn’t always the best approach. Of course many argue that offices are great for fostering communication and collaboration and some offices are gorgeous with fantastic amenities ranging from on-site laundry and massages to childcare and grocery shopping! However, the reality is that even a small distance impacts employee communication and collaboration. Once employees are 200 feet away (or more) from each other, the chances of them talking to one another is virtually zero; you might as well have employees be hundreds of miles away.
The point here isn’t to say that face-to-face communication is dead, because it isn’t, and we certainly don’t want to get rid of human contact (at least most of us). Instead organizations need to implement more flexible work environments for employees to allow them to decide how they want to work. For example, some organizations are implementing “pop-up work spaces,” which means that when meetings need to happen they can be arranged at mutually convenient co-working locations where a conference room can be rented for as much time as needed. This isn’t about removing face-to-face communication it’s about not relying on that as the only option.
I’m sure you can add to the list above as well, but the overall trend is that we no longer need to rely on corporate offices as the only place where we can get work done.
As a counter balance to this thought of getting rid of offices, I found another article that very nicely counterpoints the good and the bad. Read the full article here (it’s worth it). Here is their list of positives and negatives of office life:
- It’s great to be in the office if you’re not a very good self-motivator, or if you know you can be easily distracted
- In an office you are surrounded by capable and clever people (OK, not everyone is, but many are!)
- A short commute can be a way of clearing your mind – in both directions
- There’s free stuff at the office (like coffee, food and equipment – as long as there is!)
- Come to the office, but then get flexible and telecommute sometimes
- Some offices are truly awesome (yes, a tiny fraction of a percent are)
- Once you leave, work is over (provided that it is)
- It can be very social
- It’s not hard manual labour (unless it’s office moving day!)
What are your thoughts on office life?