We hear of so many companies that won’t go back to the way they used to work just six months ago. For them, office work is history. It’s gone.
Our collective, forced attachment to offices has now been severed by a deep mindset fault line.
What, then, is the future of the office? And how does it work into the future of work?
Network Effects of Offices
Like many other things in life, working in offices is a phenomenon that’s subject to network effects.
Meaning, coming to work in a near-empty office is very different from coming to work in an office that’s teeming with people and activity.
Offices full with people present the opportunity for more face-to-face collaboration and spontaneous social interaction where ideation and innovations can emerge; but that also comes at a cost in the form of lower overall staff productivity (the result of, eg, commuting time, distractions, noise, etc).
Your Office, In The Cloud
The very near future will bring many more digital innovations that shift the office to the cloud.
Many of the tasks that used to be performed in offices will be done, more efficiently and more successfully, in the cloud using cloud-hosted tools and services that not only mimic office environments and its interpersonal dynamics, but which also design and deliver novel experiences that can only be mediated through digital technology.
Imagine, for one example, the ability to identify and pull collaborators, experts and future customers in real time into a shared space.
Technology will enable us to unshackle our tethering to offices. It’ll be liberating, empowering, collaborative, connected, convenient, efficient, and productive — and will change the way we work and do business in a deep and fundamental way.
Function Over Form
But there’s more to this shift because offices, at least until now, enabled some degree of spontaneous exchange of information and unplanned professional interaction — which have largely positive effects as well as potentially negative effects (eg, group think, bias).
The momentum towards the office in the cloud is in conflict with the potential benefits of bringing people together into a common, shared professional working space.
We believe this momentum won’t stop. Rather, it’s quickly becoming the new normal, at least in certain economies and for certain occupations.
Instead of curbing this momentum, the potential benefits of bringing people together into a common, shared professional working space will require companies — meaning, their leaders as well as their current and future employees — to think hard about when and how to go for these benefits.
In other words, this creates an invaluable opportunity to look at the functional purpose an office space might serve, rather than the knee-jerk view of considering the office as the form for doing work.
Different companies may “pick” different points on the cloud-to-office spectrum.
However you look at that, the office of the future and the future of work are becoming a continuum that changes our collective acceptance of and openness to new modalities of work. And that’s an overall good thing.
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