Why The Office of 2021 might not be an office at all

A survey suggests that in ten years' time, business owners might not need to bother shelling out vast sums on pricey office space...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
Here's a bit of idle speculation for a Friday morning: what will your office look like in ten years' time? While MT would love to think we'll have telepathic computers, jet packs to move between floors instead of lifts, and a robot to bring us our morning cup of tea, the reality will probably be much more mundane. In fact, according to a new survey by Virgin Media Business, the office as we know it may not exist at all, as more and more of us embrace remote working. It's a plausible theory - but can managers make it work?

The survey has been done, believe it or not, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the first appearance on our TV screens of seminal comedy The Office, while the futurism angle is apparently a (rather tenuous) nod to David Brent's famous robot dance. And the majority of workers questioned are expecting big changes in the next decade: 58% think remote working will render offices largely obsolete by 2021. Indeed, Virgin Media Business reckons that since the number of mobile workers has tripled in the last year, we're starting to see evidence of this trend already.

Not surprisingly, technology is seen as the big driver here. 83% of people think they're more productive than they were a year ago thanks to their smartphone/ tablet/ e-reader etc. And although you might argue there's quite a big downside to this newfound inability of ours to escape work wherever we are, that's not necessarily true: a third of respondents said their work/ life balance had actually improved, because of the greater flexibility afforded to them by technology.

You can see the attractions of a remote working future. For employees, it means less time wasted commuting (56% expect to spend less time stuck in traffic jams/ standing on trains with their face jammed in someone's armpit by 2021). For employers, it means they don't have to spend as much money on expensive office space - allowing them to keep costs down, as well as having more agility and flexibility in the way they grow their business. That would obviously be particularly advantageous to entrepreneurs and small business owners.

The trouble is, of course, that successful remote working isn't just about having the right technology in place. It can help, of course; as Virgin Media Business points out, good communication and collaboration tools can resolve some of the difficulties of your staff not being in a room together. But it also requires a different management approach - a greater focus on outputs rather than inputs, for instance.

Still, if managers can get this right, it's easy enough to imagine that in a decade's time, the kind of workplace portrayed in The Office could look as out-dated as one of Ricky Gervais's stand-up routines...

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