Is the Office Destined to Die?

Years ago, when I used to work downtown, I would look out my office window and couldn’t help it but to observe the very clear patterns of people flowing into office towers during the 8:30am rush and hustling to get back home after 5pm.   From the 20th floor, it was amazing to see thousands of people commuting to the office for hours, following the same pattern, all in their question to get to “the office”.

One of my colleagues at the time, had commuted for about 3 hours a day, only to sit in a cubicle and do most of this business on the phone with colleagues in the U.S.   It just didn’t make any sense, though our company at the time was one that did not embrace telecommuting.   In their mind, if you weren’t in the office, you simply weren’t being productive.

Fast-forward a decade or so and despite some pockets of resistance, telecommuting is clearly on the rise, however, the myths about remote workers, such as them working less hours, wearing pajamas all day and working less hours still remain.

Through the fantastic work of Derek Kingman, who has created the infographic below for intuit.co.uk , the following patterns clearly emerge:

Technology is having a profound impact

Our ability to always be connected is unprecedented.   The Cloud has liberated data across any device and collaboration tools, both consumer and enterprise are enabling us to conduct business from anywhere, around the clock. As technology progresses, collaborating remotely will only become easier and more pervasive.   Technology is also emerging in the office, creating inspiring environments for employees to collaborate, share experiences and be more productive.

Telecommuters becoming more productive

Less distractions and more working time are raising individual productivity.   People working on creative tasks are realizing 11-20% more productivity while people working on repetitive tasks are seeing 6-10% gains.

Telecommuters are happier employees

When the company entrusts employees to telecommute, it creates loyalty and a higher level of engagement. Combine that with potential annual savings of $10,000 or more and foregoing all that time spent in traffic, you can see why employees would rather forego perks such as free meals and even take a smaller salary in exchange for the ability to work remotely.

Companies are coming around (sort of)

Despite the entire recent buzz about Yahoo’s telecommuting policy, the percentage of employers that are offering telecommuting options has drastically increased over the past decade with 59% of companies offering some sort of telecommuting options in 2011.   Yet, we are still seeing a considerable percentage of employees commuting to an offer every day (72% in the US, for example).

There’s a darker side to this perk

With every benefit comes a caveat.   If you’ve ever caught yourself doing email on vacation or working from the early mornings into the evenings (sometimes forgetting to even grab lunch), you’ve seen the downside to telecommuting.   Being constantly connected has a downside that could see employees burning out as we set the expectation that work happen round the clock.

So what’s next? Don’t give up on the office quite yet

Without getting on my soapbox, I do happen to believe that telecommuting needs to be balanced.   That is, for most jobs, some face-to-face collaboration is still a necessity, especially as business becomes more complex and it is increasingly difficult to collaborate on significant problems remotely.   That’s not to say that I’m discounting telecommuting, but I believe that sometimes telecommuters need to spend quality face-time with colleagues.

We also have an opportunity to rethink the office.   Take a look at the offices of Google and Facebook to quickly realize that cubicles have never inspired anyone.   There are, however, spaces that inspire employees, not only to come to work, but also to do their best work and progressive companies that understand the value of collaboration, are investing towards making the office a more collaborative environment.

In conclusion, telecommuting is here to stay and will only grow as technology scales to improve the way we collaborate.   It is too soon to count out the office, but yet another opportunity to rethink it completely.

Infographic by Darren Kingman

Death of the Office - Final Draft
Click to enlarge

 

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