Is the traditional office dead? What companies are doing to adapt to the new age of remote workers
The invention of the internet produced many new career paths – of course within IT, but also in the shape of social media “influencers,” professional gamers, and online entrepreneurs. The digital age has also disrupted corporate culture, detaching many business professionals from traditional office environments. Millions of journalists, programmers, and consultants now bounce around from gig-to-gig as freelancers, temps, and independent contractors.
This group has been predicted to make up half of the workforce by next year. And even you, the occasional work-from-homer, contributes to 70% of the global population that worked from home at least once a week last year.
There’s no denying that the modern 9-5 job has evolved dramatically in the past few decades, which is leaving company offices empty and inefficiently used. What’s the point of paying for real estate that the average worker is only inhabiting 30% of the time? Many organizations are choosing to adapt in one of two ways: changing their office design or changing their worker’s location.
Option 1: Floor plans that keep employees engaged
Many people believe that remote work will render offices, as we know them, useless. This is partly true – traditional office layouts no longer cut it for employees who don’t rely on office supplies, face-to-face meetings, or corporate utilities. Now, staff have access to everything they need on their computers (and even their cell phones!) The modern employee doesn’t want to sit in a cubicle all day if she could be doing the same work in her own space.
Despite all of this, an office space can still be of great use to employees. Some companies are re-focusing their interiors on the worker experience rather than the work experience. Open-layouts, spacious meeting rooms, large collaborative areas, buzzing cafes, and cushy lounges are all being incorporated into the modern office building as part of an effort to accommodate the variety of projects and working styles any one employee might have.
Option 2: Locations that keep employees happy
The other increasingly popular option for companies looking to adapt is to embrace the concept of mobility. In 2011, the electronics firm Plantronics eliminated a third of its employees’ desks in a redesign of its headquarters. Instead of coming into work, employees were allowed to also work from home or join a local co-working space.
Plantronics’ office downsizing demonstrates that coworking spaces are no longer just for freelancers or the unemployed. Remote workers from all different industries, backgrounds, and schools of thought are populating co-working areas. Many coworking spaces allow startups and small organizations to rent out desks in their buildings, and some corporations even invite outside workers into specially designated co-working areas in their own company buildings. According to Deskmag, the number of coworking spaces has grown 200% annually for seven years.
Companies are embracing off-site co-working spaces for reasons beyond hoping to support their employees’ work preferences. These spaces can also be financially efficient in reducing company overhead. As long as organizations have the technical infrastructure in place to aid virtual communication, they can save on rent, utilities, and maintenance that come from larger office spaces. Remote workers can also help companies become more sustainable. American Express recently lowered its carbon footprint by 27.5 percent as a result of a new focus on virtual meeting centers and decreased business travel.
Some worry that remote work reduces the opportunity for collaboration and work-community development. In fact, a recent study found “the best, most-widely cited research came from coauthors sitting less than 10 meters apart.” Perhaps coauthors are no longer sharing the same space, but with co-working spaces, they are sitting next to hundreds of other employees with a variety of skill sets and perspectives. One of the goals of co-working spaces is to facilitate the spread of other professionals’ unique ideas and talents. This goal is potentially easier to achieve in a diverse coworking space than in a traditional office, where like-minded staff can stifle creative problem solving and innovative approaches.
Zubair Alexander. 2017. “By 2020, 50% of the Americans Are Expected to Be Working as Independent Contractors.” LinkedIn. August 22, 2017. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/2020-50-americans-expected-working-independent-zubair-alexander/.
Ryan Browne. 2018. “70% of People Globally Work Remotely at Least Once a Week, Study Says.” , May 31, 2018, sec. Make it. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/30/70-percent-of-people-globally-work-remotely-at-least-once-a-week-iwg-study.html
Marissa Feinberg. 2013. “Why Your Office Will Disappear.” Forbes. February 28, 2013. https://www.forbes.com/sites/marissafeinberg/2013/02/28/why-your-office-will-disappear/#1a86c23a56d3.
Morgan, Jacob. 2015. “The Office Space Isn’t Dead, It’s Making A Comeback.” Forbes. November 24, 2015. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2015/11/24/the-office-space-isnt-dead-its-making-a-comeback/.
Lindsay, Greg. 2013. “Coworking Spaces From Grind to GRid70 Help Employees Work Beyond the Cube” Fast Company. February 11, 2013. https://www.fastcompany.com/3004915/coworking-nextspace
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