Market Insight

Could tech advancements spell the death of the office?

May 13, 2019

The way we work and the office space we do it in, is experiencing change at an increasingly rapid rate.
With this in mind, are we on the cusp of a complete office revolution which could spell the death of the office as we know it?

If office design, technology and developments in work culture are anything to go by, it wouldn’t be impossible to imagine an office-less world in the future. 

For the time being, however, businesses should get to grips with how technology and culture is leading the charge when it comes to office design. 

Given that an office move is some 18-24 months in the making, keeping abreast of developments in office culture and working environments will help to ensure your new office doesn’t become obsolete before the removal lorries have even had chance to pull away from the car park.

Office evolution

Many of the offices we occupy today were originally built upon the same design principles that have been around for over 100 years. 

They were borne out of a desire to maximise efficiency and deal with the processing of large amounts of paper, whilst overseeing staff and ensuring presenteeism – the expectation that you should be in the office.

Over time, office design has evolved as approaches to our working culture have changed. 

We’ve gone from open plan environments to activity-based working, and from cubicle farms, back to open plan again. 

But to look at office design in isolation would be myopic and misplaced. It’s just one piece of a tripartite office puzzle, which should include technology and culture too. 

When thinking about your office requirements, if one of these three pillars is misunderstood or unbalanced, any proposed changes to your working environment, risk falling at the first hurdle. 

The impact of technology on our working environment 

In the same way as the change from CRT (cathode-ray tube) monitors to flat screens and the move to bench desking from corner desks reduced office space requirements by circa 20% per person, the next phase of technological development promises to achieve even more. 

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), households with internet access in Great Britain have increased from 65% in 2008 to 90% in 2018, so 9 out of 10 UK households now have the internet. 

Not only this, 8 out of 10 adults access the internet “on the go” – this accounts for 97% of 25-34 year-olds, falling to 39% in the 65+ bracket. And this is before the rollout of 5G.

In 2008, Prêt A Manger started to roll our ‘free Wi-Fi’ to its customers at a time when Café Nero charged £5 per hour, acting as the catalyst for much more freely available internet access than ever before. 

According to Eurostat, business use of cloud computing in the UK increased from circa 12% in 2014 to 27% in 2018. 

So, access to the internet is more widely available than ever not only within the home, but also in the wider public, such as in cafés and hotels. 

This, together with more adoption of cloud computing by businesses, means that the need for a physical office from which to work is gradually decreasing. 

But do we have the work culture to support the more flexible working required of a world with less requirement for the office?

The answer is, if you look at our Scandinavian neighbours, probably not.

Finland, Denmark and Sweden boasted corporate cloud computing rates of 43%, 38% and 37% respectively back in 2018.

When taken together with their traditions of good working conditions and flexible working hours, where a ‘Hygge’ life which champions better work life balance is the norm, it’s no real surprise that their workers should be 12% more productive when in a positive state of mind.

It all comes down to culture

When it comes to productivity, the UK is languishing at the bottom of the G7 productivity league table, yet we work longer hours than many other of our European counterparts with markedly lower productivity growth

Contrast this with the ‘Nordic’ model and maybe it’s time to think about your company’s approach to work culture. 

Most contracts are based on expected working hours of 9am to 5.30 pm with an hour for lunch and many companies still have a culture of presenteeism.

If such an approach to culture in the enterprise environment persists, then taken together with a failure to invest in new technology and digital transformation, this could activate a productivity time bomb. 

Empower your people

To overcome this cultural and technological timebomb, it’s important to empower your people through trust and instil a culture which empowers change – both cultural and technological. But there is a balance to strike, as research by Peldon Rose shows. 

Yes, UK workers whose employer relationships are built on trust and autonomy in relation to how and when they undertake their work, have greater levels of productivity and, indeed, happiness.

However, working out of the office can make staff feel disconnected, which in turn as studied by Gensler , can lead to decreased levels of employee engagement if they are based outside of an office environment more than 2 days a week.

Given the rise in homeworking levels, with the ONS Labour Force Survey showing a 74% increase in the number of people working from home between 2008 and 2018, this is something for employers to think about. 

Bringing the benefits of homeworking into the office environment

So, we understand the effects of technology and culture on our employees – how can we balance the benefits of the changes, and bring these into the working environment?

It comes back to office design. 

When people work at home, they organise themselves and their work based on the task in hand. 

They may sit on a sofa with their laptop, at a dining table, perch on a kitchen counter, walk around the garden on their mobile phone or lock themselves in their study to block out the noise of the children. 

So, the space in which they operate is much more flexible than some office environments afford.

Workplace design therefore needs to focus on supporting activity-based working in the same way you would have the choice when working from home – to have the quiet space to concentrate on that report, to have comfortable space to meet and collaborate on ideas, to have the freedom to work in different ways based on the task at hand.

When office design, culture and advancements in technology combine, the forecast for the future of the office isn’t terminal. 

Far from it. What we might see is a culture which is much more fluid, where employees are trusted to work where they know they can be the most productive. 

We may see a better designed office environment which supports activity-based working and where the culture, together with the use of technology, creates a magical place of productivity – a place where employees go to meet with their colleagues to collaborate and exchange ideas, whilst feeding their own happiness.

Indeed, many forward-looking businesses already provide such an opportunity for their employees. 

And we can help your to do the same – finding the best opportunity to meet your specific needs. 

For help in sourcing or creating your own office space fit for the future, don’t hesitate to get in touch.