Original insights in international business and marketing
You’ve probably noticed that the trend these past few years has been towards open work spaces. Gone are the individual offices and even the oft derided cubicle. Drywalls have been torn down or replaced with transparent or frosted glass.
Around the world, and in Europe in particular, companies are embracing the open office space where all employees work in a shared and exposed area. Some organizations have even adopted a flexible work space where the seats are unassigned and therefore available on a first come, first served basis. You like the space by the window with the view? It’s yours – assuming, of course, that you show up early enough in the office to get it before anyone else. Gone are the personalized desk areas with vacation photos and pinned phone directories. The spaces need to stay pristine and free of any clutter for tomorrow’s next occupant.
The digital era has enabled us to carry all we need on our laptops and in the cloud. Printers and filing cabinets are seldom needed. Personal expression is restricted to the computer desktop where we are still free to display family or vacation photos.
All of this is part of a natural evolution in the workplace. Offices need to adapt to the new work realities: travel, home office work, ever changing teams & projects, matrix/flat organizations, collaborative environments, cost reduction initiatives, digital work spaces, etc…
The open office is less of a symptom and more of a natural evolution of today’s work environment. Economic realities are conspiring to shrink the office space available to a workforce. Companies have mostly switched from owning facilities to leasing them. The workforce is increasingly global, digitally connected and on the move. Hierarchies and the traditional elitism of management are giving way to the matrixed organization where equality reigns and social (as well as physical) barriers are slowly being removed.
The workforce is also changing. A younger, networked generation is arriving to replace an older one which was steeped in the trappings of executive perks and earned segregation into closed offices suites. An increased reliance on short term contractors and consultants have also changed the need for traditional assigned spaces.
While generally positive, the move towards open and dynamic work spaces has not been entirely free of distractions and challenges. The lack of privacy has driven many to rely on meeting rooms (when available) or to work from home. Loud conversations or phone calls have also proven a painful distraction to those who work best in quiet environments. People’s personal habits (good and bad) have also been put on display for all to experience.
So what’s next? Probably more of the same. Technology continues to evolve and allow us to do business globally from almost anywhere. Tomorrow’s office will continue to shrink until perhaps it only remains as a space for meeting with customers or for teams to occasionally meet and collaborate. Smaller organizations will turn to generic, shared office space that is rented by the hour or month. Coffee shops are already the informal new work place for millions of digitally connected contractors.
Looking further down the road you can already see how full-time company employees will increasingly be substituted for self employed contractors who get pulled in for defined projects. Tomorrow’s corporations will rely on a large network of specialized contractors who usually work around the globe (around the clock!) and physically come together only for short-term assignments. Design, production, accounting, HR, marketing and other groups will all be outsourced. Many already are. Even within these groups or functions, the traditional office concept will inevitably become redundant.
So enjoy your office if you have one. Get used to open flexible work spaces if you see them popping up. But above all, prepare yourself for the day when you and your colleagues will turn into independent contractors working from home, a rented office suite or the local coffee shop. Prepare yourself because that day is probably closer than you think.
Photo credit: Phil Gyford at Photopin