What will the workplace look like in 10, 20, 50 years? How will we work? Will we even have offices at all? The workplace is going through a period of dramatic change and the way we work is evolving in very exciting ways. But before I delve into these questions, let’s have a little history lesson…
Offices, as we know them today, were initially created as support for manufacturing sites. They were typically built on riverbanks so they could draw power from the river. Once electric power was invented, businesses had more choice about where they could put offices. Offices moved to cities and suburbs and were places you went to do your job, whatever that might be. Places to work, to have meetings, to create and store your documents.
In the past few years several technologies and trends have emerged that significantly reduce our dependence on physical offices. The consumerisation of IT means we often have better technology at home than our employer provides in the office. Cloud computing makes our infrastructure, our data and our documents readily accessible wherever we want to perch our laptops. Mobile phones and tablets are more robust than ever, so we can use the same applications on any device we choose.
Technically speaking, we have the tools we need to do our jobs virtually anywhere we choose.But that’s not the end of the story. Social interaction is an important part of going to work. Research has shown that significant parts of our brain are devoted to social interaction and thrive when we are finding, creating and sustaining human relationships. That is why the advent of social networking has been so pivotal to new ways of working. Social networks have changed the way we interact with each other so that we can both communicate rapidly and feel a sense of community whether we are sitting in the same room as a colleague or on opposite sides of the globe. The technology we use today is only in its infancy, yet the changes it is driving are substantial.
In the future, it is very unlikely there will be a dedicated place for work. The concept of a workplace will change, or disappear altogether. Work will be about creating value together, but very few jobs will be tied to a physical office. If you’re sceptical, just take a look at open source communities. Within open source communities, people create very advanced systems without ever meeting. They can work wherever they go. They create value that has nothing to do with ‘going to work’. Other work-related concepts will undergo changes too. For example, there may be something we call a ‘document’ but it won’t be a piece of paper with writing on it.
Forward-looking companies welcome the changes happening in the workplace and are frequently referred to as social businesses. These companies are adopting social collaboration tools, improving internal and external communication and transparency, becoming more flexible in their working practices and embracing the flatter organisational structures that are emerging as a result. CEOs who avoid these changes be warned: you may wake up one day to find your corner office simply no longer exists.
Mattias Hallstrom is the founder and research and development direct for Projectplace