Roughly 79 percent of knowledge workers around the world now work outside the office, according to the second annual Global Telework Survey by collaboration software and services provider PGi. That’s a huge number of employees abandoning what we know as the traditional 9-to-5 workday.
“The technology is now here, to enable everybody to work where they want around the globe,” SVP & General Manager at Powwownow Jason Downes recently said to CNBC on the rising trend of working outside the office. “It’s what the new generation is expecting and demanding.”
What does that mean for the future of the office, then? Now that not everyone wants or needs it, is the office on the brink of extinction?
The Vanishing Office Space
Office walls started evaporating long before the flex work revolution. First, corner offices faded, and then cubicles started disappearing as the open office concept spread. As employees untethered themselves from desktop computers and desk phones, the digital workplace gave rise to a mobile workforce that got work done without a swivel chair or filing cabinet in sight.
Company headquarters could be a novelty in the future of work, considering the costs of maintaining and traveling to offices. But its demise might not be good news to every organization.
For most, the office is a welcome mat that illustrates a company’s mission and a base camp for initial meetings with clients, partners and new employees. It’s also the campfire employees gather around to share successes, learn from failures, ignite team spirit and nurture engagement.
To businesses that treasure office space, offering flex work might seem like the equivalent of putting an “EXIT” sign above every desk. After all, once the floodgates open, won’t everyone leave the office with tumbleweeds?
In the 2015 survey, PGi also asked workers, “How often do you want to work remotely in the average week?” Contrary to common beliefs, the majority of teleworkers don’t want to be 100-percent virtual. In fact, most non-teleworkers that want to work outside the office prefer just one day per week.
The results defy the misconception that flex workers never show face in the office and indicate that offices won’t become fossils anytime soon. In reality, most workers want the best of both worlds: the reduced commute and cost-savings of working outside the office and the structure and socialization of working inside the office.
Flex Work Enhances Office Life
Instead of evacuating the office, flex work actually has the potential to enhance office life. Combining flex work and in-office work, businesses not only improve productivity but also add cost-effective collaborative workspace.
Shortly after the open office’s 15 minutes of fame, its downsides bled across media outlets, acknowledging the noise, distractions and lack of productivity without privacy. Companies stuck with open office floor plans can remedy the situation just by offering a couple days to work from home. Providing the perfect balance of uninterrupted solo time and total teamwork immersion, flex work effectively solves the open office conundrum.
Plus, as both privacy and square footage decrease, telework technology expands the shrinking office. Recent figures estimate a 22-percent drop in square feet per office worker in North America from 2010 to 2012. Short on space, workers have less places to not only do individual work but also to collaborate as meetings multiply.
But the same tools companies deploy to support flex work help alleviate claustrophobic quarters, too. Where the desk and conference room end, virtual solutions just begin, padding permanent online meeting space to the office for both virtual and in-office employees. Now so simple and personalized, video conferencing helps companies stop scrambling for places to meet and quit worrying about room for expansion.
Technology and flexibility also grant businesses the power to truly choose what type of headquarters represents their unique culture. Maybe touchdown spaces and unassigned desks better demonstrate agility than cookie-cutter cubicles, or perhaps virtual meeting space and room-based video conferencing better embody a company’s forward-thinking focus than stale conference rooms.
Life after the 9-to-5 workday isn’t doomsday for the office but, instead, progress. Discover more about what life outside the 9-to-5 workday really looks like by downloading the entire free 2015 PGi Global Telework Survey now.
photo credit: istockphoto.com