How offices will look like 5 or even 10 years from now? Where is the office space heading? Will we actually need an office at all? How do we prepare for such scenarios?
There’s no short answer to these questions, and to understand how things will unfold, we don’t have to look too far, signs of this “revolution” can be found in many offices today. Let’s discuss a few points in order to understand what is going on today and how the future might lead us but first let’s make a bold statement: we won’t need offices anymore.
Mobility, wireless, globalization, flexibility are all things that have changed the way we intend the office. Let’s say that this trends moves forward and, as some of you probably experience already, take over the classic image of the city-office where everyone has to go in order to get things done, we will end up not needing a physical office anymore. As a matter of fact, you – the employee – will be the office, and the office will go where you go. The technology to implement that is already among us. How many times have you been on vacation while still working, regardless of where you were located or what you were supposed to enjoy. How many times have you solved some incredibly itchy situations at work while fishing or bathing your dog or skydiving? It’s clear already that technology has allowed us to be productive, effective and practically “in the office” even if we don’t really have one, so saying that the physical office is obsolete is not far from the truth.
In the future, your skills, your creativity and your efficiency are going to be the real asset for a company – where and how you unleash them is entirely disconnected by the interior space on the 50th floor. Companies at best will need a meeting room and a place where they can meet clients, the rest is “on the go” and your employees will be anywhere and nowhere, always reachable by a video call.
But let’s pause for a moment and let’s embrace the fact that we will still need a physical office: How it’ll look like? In this case is rather easy to see what’s happening right now all over the globe based on an idea, mostly, rather than a physical space. The idea is that your work and your life aren’t separated anymore. Your life walks into the office with you and it disrupts the way an office is supposed to be. This has a double pay-off: on one side you’ll be more comfortable when you go to work and you won’t have to build a wall in between those two realms; for your boss, this means you’ll work more and more since there’s not a 9 to 6 boundary in between work and life – the boundary is blurry and flexible.
In the last 15 years, everything about the life out there has been brought inside the office. The office is an open space, a multi-purpose space with gardens, running tracks, music rooms, pools, gyms, cafeteria and in case you have pets or kids, sure thing you can bring them in too. The “office hours” have been smashed into pieces so small that you can dilute and do a bit of work pretty much whenever you want and can.
A psychologist has its own office at the end of the corridor, just in case you feel stressed. The best foods, the best masseuse, the best deals are at your service. Again, this is all based on the simple but disrupting idea that your life and your work aren’t supposed to be on two sides of the fence, they co-exist, they go hand in hand, they even support each other.
You’ll forget about the fact you’re going to work, you’ll forget about weekends too, you’ll forget that you have a house or that you need a kitchen or a gym subscription. Your job will somehow oversee your life because all the services and entertainment are provided, all you need to do is take them, enjoy them as you please and, while you do that, please don’t forget to work too.
And here is the dark side of this idea. Life, for as much as we try to do otherwise, is made of unstructured activities, is often messy and goes up and down. Work, on the other hand, is supposed to be organized, always on tracks, always pointed towards a goal – stated or otherwise – and has a very precise payoff or meaning. Nearly every company, or every profession, know what they are doing, they know what is the result to be achieved and they also know what to do next.
Think about it. Many people lose focus and drive once they stop working, as if they lost momentum, direction, meaning. Once work takes over your life, you might complain that “you don’t have a life anymore” but at the same time it keeps you busy. If in the future “your life” and work won’t be two separate moments but one seamless surface you might or might not discover that this bothers you, that not being able to separate them doesn’t give you “more time” or more space for yourself but quite the contrary.
If the future of offices around the world looks like what I just described, we’ll have to make some hard choices and, at some point, we’ll have to remind ourselves what are our personal, private, life-long priorities in order to be aware that work and life are not exactly the same thing.