Choice in the evolving workplace

For some time now, we have been hearing about the imminent death of the office. Yet the day of its demise never actually seems to come any closer, which explains why all of those reports that once presented a '2020' vision that incorporated a world devoid of workplaces have now set their eyes on more distant horizons as the actual year 2020 approaches.

That is not to say the office is not subject to regular upheavals in both form and function over the past 40 years or so. We have already seen one form or other of the office die away and then reincorporate itself more times than Doctor Who, with some similarly badly thought out versions interspersing the good ones along the way. Despite the possibility of us all working somewhere else and rarely, if ever, coming into contact with our colleagues, the office exerts its own gravitational pull on the people it serves because we are human and not only enjoy the company of others but need it for many of the things we do.

What we are left with is a constantly evolving idea of the office driven by generational differences, advances in technology, space planning and a whole range of other issues. The office itself lives on. 

That is not to suggest, however that we are about to return to an analogue world. That is a false dichotomy and a trap many people have fallen into in assuming that technology presents us with the chance to do away with all that went before. In actual fact, what it presents us with are choices. 

Technology allows us to research, share, communicate and collaborate in new ways, but life is about balance and for all its upsides it has the downsides to match.  In terms of the working world these include the distractions of the Internet, potential isolation from the use of the virtual world to conduct a social life and the rapidly diminishing opportunity to communicate in the old fashioned way, face to face. These issues would only be amplified with the disappearance of at least some form of physical base, even in a changed state. 

That is not to say that flexible and agile working are not very important and extremely useful tools for any employer but to reduce opportunities to talk to people in ‘real life’ and the places they can go to do this to virtually nil is obviously counterproductive and defies human nature and what we know about how people interact and develop. The office appears to be evolving in response to these dynamics, most notably as a place to work alongside other places such as our homes, cafes and client premises.