What is the value of a physical office when mobile computing and computer networks allow practically everything to be done outside the office? This article answers this question by making a compelling argument for what one might call “borderless offices.” It notes that companies are going global and their talent often resides across a network of offices. Companies searching for the best and brightest [see “Work Trends To Benefit Top Employees” above] realize they don’t necessarily reside in places where the company even has offices. Furthermore, notes the author, work/life balance and workplace flexibility are top factors in attracting and retaining scarce top talent, particularly with up-and-coming Gen-Y’ers.
Some of the more important additional points brought up:
- By 2019 an estimated 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be independent contractors, experts in their field hired for short periods for unique roles, often in support of core full-time teams;
- Escalating travel costs can be significantly cut in these tough economic times through virtual collaboration – Cisco saves $90 million a year this way; and
- Virtual work, managed properly, significantly reduces an organization’s carbon footprint.
Having made a strong case for virtual work, the article then devotes itself to exploring the technologies supporting it. The leading video conferencing systems are discussed with face-to-face simulations now so convincing that participants have actually reached out to shake hands with colleagues who are physically on the other side of the world. Virtual worlds and cloud computing are also treated.
Faced with these developments the author believes that the office, while not disappearing, will be significantly changing. It should become above all a place where people love to be, and include important “design considerations” such as:
- Built-in flexibility so that as technology and work patterns change, the space that supports them can change too;
- The physical office “box” becoming just one in a network of places within a city in which work gets done; and
- The “box” becoming “a place that reinforces community, embodies shared values and showcases the brand with exemplars of the firm’s best efforts.”
An article sidebar lists three of the biggest, most profound effects that virtual work is already having on the design of work environments: shrinking real estate square footage, collaborative space overtaking individual offices and more “hoteling” with individuals moving around throughout the day rather than staying static at one desk.