Technology is always evolving, and as it evolves at an ever-increasing pace it is changing our lives and our work environment in ways we could never have imagined. The laptop, the iPad and the mobile have rather quietly had a drastic effect. We can now, if we wish, be in contact with other people 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And younger workers — those under 30 — only unplug from their virtual relationships if their employer insists they must. It doesn’t matter where we are. New technology has shrunk the globe. Formidable distances mean nothing if you have an internet connection.
We are turning into a workforce of mobile freelancers. A stockbroker or copywriter or accountant — knowledge workers — can work from home or on a train or on the beach. All that is needed to keep working is a Wi-Fi hook-up. It is a more fluid and far more adaptable working lifestyle. Workers can, to a growing extent, decide how to structure their working day. And going to the office every single day does not fit into this new way of working. We need to work. But how and where we work is more and more a decision we can make for ourselves. Going to the office every day is proving less and less attractive — if it ever really was.
Don’t buy, rent
The new adaptable and flexible working lifestyle is increasing productivity. And it means that work cannot be stymied by something as unavoidable as a severe blizzard. But fewer workers are coming to the office. This is pushing businesses to take a long, cool look at their continued ownership of land. If a vast office complex is not needed, why should a company invest in it? As Felix Dennis, the founder of Dennis Publishing said: ‘If it floats or flies, rent it; it’s cheaper in the long run’. Admittedly, he was talking about luxury yachts and company jets, but the principle holds true. For instance, a newspaper (in itself a sunset industry) nowadays does not have to have a giant and expensive printing press on the same property as its editorial and advertising offices. New technology means it can be printed hundreds of miles away or even in another country.
So the change in working practices is an opportunity for companies to reappraise their investments in traditional workplaces. As always happens when the working system changes, companies spring up to cater for the change in demand. If all a customer needs is to rent a meeting room West End based, or a conference room in Derby, somebody will be there to supply it.
Face to face
Remote working will not replace completely the need to gather staff together. Face-to-face negotiation and communication will still have a place that virtual environments cannot truly duplicate. But companies will increasingly find they do not have to own the properties where those meetings take place. They will work out how to ensure the size of the office matches the demand.