I tend to read a lot of posts about the future of the office — be it about office design, or working from home. I read these posts because not only will it eventually effect me, it likely will effect my business (being in real estate) much faster.
When you read these articles the facts you tend to understand after a while come down to:
- We all ignore that ‘open office’ designs are not the most productive environments because: they look pretty, they are trendy, and most importantly they cost less.
- Remote working, some people have it, some don’t, but everyone seems to want it.
- Did I mention open office designs? Those are really big.
- And then there are the posts about standing at your desk, which I love to do — though I am sitting as I type this.
There seems to be the consensus that open office layouts are here to stay, and that eventually at some point, working remotely will be the norm.
Ok, I guess.
But I have a little different vision of the ‘future’ office, and it’s certainly not working from home. While it is very nice to work from home, in general, working from home is a pretty bad idea. Forget all the ‘distractions’1 that most people will point to and instead focus on just one aspect: space.
How much space do you have in your home to create an office? Ok, so you have enough for you, but what about your spouse, or your kids when they start working (but are still in school), is there room for all of you to have home offices? I think not.
Are we suddenly going to start remodeling our homes, and designing them, to accommodate the fact that we work from home? Are dining rooms, living rooms, eat-in kitchens, and garages all going to become ‘offices’? How long, if we will all work from home one day, until our home is nothing but and office?
Is the future really one where my commute is a hallway, and I never leave the house, let alone stand up? Where the work never ends because it is just two steps away and everyone, including your boss and clients, knows that? Is it one where we just work all the time because we feel pressured into it, or where we constantly fight all the distractions at home as we try to do some work that we are loathe to do?
I think not — at least I hope not.
The question that has been nagging at me is this: what happens to the millions of square feet of existing office space if, indeed, there are no corporate offices anymore?
That space won’t simply vanish — trust me, I manage far too much vacant space and no matter how hard you try it doesn’t go away.
I try to look at this problem of remote working and current office space from the perspective of what I would do to fill the space. Open office space layouts has proven that companies love saving money, even if it is at the expense of less productivity.2 It comes down to what’s cheaper for corporations: offices, or no offices?
To that end I think corporations will actually be keen on having people work from home, rather than having to pay for an office — and the admin staff that is required of you having an office.3
So if I were running a property with a bunch of vacant office space, I’d start leasing out the individual offices in the space to people who “work from home”. That thought got me a little excited about how the future of office work could really play out.
Maybe corporations don’t have offices anymore, but maybe individuals do have offices. Sometimes that is a desk in the corner of a room full of desks, sometimes that’s an office in a building full of offices. But I see it working like so:
- I have my own office, setup the way I want it.
- That office is paid for by whomever I work for as part of my salary.
- If I leave the company, I simply go to another company, and that company doesn’t have to pay for a new workspace, as I already have it. I can move jobs without having to move offices.
- Or, I can move offices, cities, countries at will, and never have to change my job.
Offices become “Ben’s office”, instead of “X Company’s office”. That could be cool, and it makes far more sense than everyone working from home. Each employee having their own dedicated office space would allow for:
- The correct environment for that employee. Be it ‘open’, or private — or somewhere in-between.
- Cheaper costs, as a company now has 100% flexibility with lease rates (they aren’t locked into a 10 year lease for a 1,000 people even if they just laid off half the people). Instead their employees assume the risk of a lease, or work from home.
- Employees get to choose their location, and move whenever they might want to.
- Employees get to choose the people they spend their day with. Don’t like the other people in your office? Get a new office. Don’t like your city? Get a new city.
There are more, but you get the idea.
To me this is a powerful idea. The idea that we reverse roles to a degree. We don’t have to live with our future office being in our homes — because there is going to be abundant space available for us to rent out. Want a nicer office? Pay for it.
I still have doubt about how much remote work will play into the future of business, but there is no doubt that it already is a substantial amount of people. Therefore, I can only assume that number is going to increase with every technological jump we make.
The biggest hurdle now is simply paper. If we can find a way to reduce paper transaction between business (checks and invoices) then we can expedite this change in workspace.
This should be exciting.
I worked from home quite a bit for a few years, it was not ideal. ↩
As contentious a statement as it is to say that open plans are less productive, but just put your headphones back on and enjoy that collaborative open office while rocking out and trying your best to ignore the people around you. ↩
Janitors, office managers, maintenance. ↩