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The Death of the Office: How Technology is Disrupting the Modern Workplace

2 Mar 16  | Business Support
The Death of the Office:
How Technology is Disrupting the Modern Workplace

We are in an age of disruption, so they say: technology is disrupting just about every industry on the planet, from construction to medicine; fashion to IT itself. As these industries find themselves in uncertain waters, what is happening to the offices and workplaces that service them?

Intuit have created a fantastic infographic which examines the changes technology has wrought in the modern workplace and asks whether the traditional office might be going the way of the dodo.

In a 1969 episode of the BBC's 'Tomorrow's World', presenter James Burke asked what the office of the future might look like. The vision created included using motorised storage units to physically send files around the office to colleagues, archiving files digitally using photographs, and using portable cassette recorders to send audio messages to others. 

These ideas can clearly be seen as early permutations of email, scanners and even modern apps such as SnapChat, which allows the recording and sending of not only audio messages, but video too. 

The rise of the telecommuter in recent years is one that Mr Burke did not foresee, but it is having arguably the biggest effect: between 2010 and 2012 the percentage of workers physically entering a corporate office at least once a week fell from 100% to 89%. In just two years, that's a massive drop. Between 2006 and 2011, the proportion of employers offering telework or flexible working options increased from 13% to 59% - an enormous growth. It seems fairly obvious that the traditional work-schedule of being in the office from 9-5 every day is slowly being replaced by something a lot more flexible. 

According to Inc. Magazine, 79% of workers would appreciate the option to work from home, and in fact it appears that telecommuters put in more hours: 53% of telecommuters work more than 40 hours per week, while only 28% of non-telecommuters put in so many hours. 90% of managers report that they believe that workers are more productive when given the flexibility to choose when and how they work. 

There are also the obvious cost benefits to telecommuting: employees can save $2-7,000 (£1420-£4990) per year, mainly on transportation costs and other expenses, while employers can save up to $11,000 (£7840), by reducing office space and power usage, among other things. 43% of SME owners report saving $1,000 (£712) or more each month thanks to telecommuting employees, and it is estimated that if all the US employees with compatible jobs were able to work half of their hours from home, national savings would be in the region of $700billion (£498bn). The savings of such a move in terms of oil would equate to roughly 37% of US Persian Gulf imports. 

One US study showed that remote workers reported greater satisfaction in a number of areas. 53% of office-based workers were considering leaving their job in the next 12 months, compared to only 46% of remote and home-based workers. 64% of office workers were satisfied with their company as a place of work, compared to 73% of home-workers. 54% of home-based workers thought that communication in their company was open, honest and two-way, while only 44% of office-workers agreed, and while 56% of home-based workers believed that their manager(s) showed concern for their well-being and morale, only 49% of office workers felt the same way. 

Across the globe, workers are willing to make concessions in order to enjoy flexible working benefits: in the UK, 28% of employees would be willing to take a salary reduction in exchange for flexible working privileges, and that number only rises elsewhere: 35% of Spanish workers would accept a salary reduction for flexible working, and 36% of workers in Japan, 38% in the US, 57% in India and 59% in Brazil would all agree to such an arrangement. 

While many companies seem to be embracing the move towards a more flexible and less office-based model, some are bucking the trend. In 2013, Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer ended the company's work-from-home policy, and has since stated that while people may be more productive alone, "they're more collaborative and innovative when they're together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together".

Also in 2013, former Google CFO Patrick Pichette was asked 'how many people telecommute at Google?' and answered 'as few as possible'.

So what's next?

Many experts have postulated on what the workplace of the future might look like. 

Microsoft believes that 'workspaces are changing from places where employees access necessary data and equipment to places centred around collaboration and interaction with colleagues'. This is evidenced by Microsoft's unusual, teamwork-focused offices and innovative collaborative spaces. 

An OfficeTeam survey of executives found that 42% believe that future workers will be required to work more hours than they do now (with only 9% believing the opposite), and 86% of executives surveyed thought that workers of the future would be expected to remain in close contact while on vacation. This would seem to dovetail with the trend of moving away from rigid working arrangements: people will be happier to be available at all hours of the day if they haven't already put in 8 or 9 hours at the office, and might be happier to take a call while on holiday if they feel less like the rest of the year is such a burden. 

"Choice is the new currency in the workplace environment', says Kahler Slater, architecture and interior design firm. People are willing to lose a little in salary or other benefits in exchange for more flexibility, choice and options in terms of their working life. 

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