As we sit in our modern air-conditioned workplaces, some of which are open plan, some of which are made up of small teams of two or three individuals, our thoughts may wander to what the office might look like in 2050. Will we need a centralized workplace, or will we all work digitally and connect to the office remotely, or will we continue to engage both in-person and virtually? Will coming together as one under one roof to work toward similar goals still hold sway in 2050?
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Since everyone now has the right to work more flexibly, many people question if this will lead to more freedom. Will workers desire to work remotely one day a week, work a three- or four-day week, or finish or start earlier or later if they had the option to do so? According to one theory, flexible working is encouraged by the usage of 21st-century modes of communication such as cloud computing, social media, and video conferencing.
Increased flexibility and remote working, mostly from the comfort of one’s own home, aided by enhanced communication technologies, could usher in a new wireless connectedness between people, not just computers. Technology that allows us to have face-to-face meetings over the internet or even utilize a virtual whiteboard has been around for a long time and has become more familiar. Employees frequently utilize Skype and Facetime and applications that allow them to access shared documents and folders via the internet.
A country dominated by office employees
Despite the tremendous advancements in remote working technologies, the Office of National Statistics reports that 87% of us still work primarily in an office setting. Meanwhile, Stanford University research has discovered that remote workers are 13% more productive, take fewer sick days, and work in a quieter atmosphere than their commuting counterparts. It’s no surprise that, according to a recent survey of business owners conducted by Virgin Media Business, 60% of office-based employees will regularly work from home by 2022. According to a separate survey conducted by Office Angels, a third of employees believe that commuting will be obsolete by 2036.
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There are still two camps: one envisions the future workplace as a virtual entity, while the other advocates a reversal of remote working and a centrifugal drawback to the central office, or ‘people on seats.’
When Yahoo USA CEO Marissa Mayer issued her divisive decree requiring all employees to work in their offices rather than remotely, she surprised the business sector and workers accustomed to a great degree of flexibility in their working week.
David Heinemeier Hansson believes in his book Remote: Office Not Required that building virtual workspaces allows people to contribute vitally without physically being together. And this is just one viewpoint among a slew of others that tout the advantages of remote employment.
Collaboration, without a doubt, can lead to creativity, but it does not always have to be face-to-face. Mayer’s suspension was harshly panned both inside and outside Yahoo. Even Sir Richard Branson chimed in, stating, “Give people the opportunity to choose where they work… In an age where remote working is easy and more successful than ever, this appears to be a step backward.’
A plea to be adaptable
Pip Marlow, the managing director of Microsoft Australia, asked her 830 employees not to come into the workplace in February 2013. The ‘Summer Day Out’ was created to promote flexible working and highlight the benefits of Office 365 cloud technology. It was judged such a success that on November 14, all Microsoft offices followed suit, and the company’s entire 90,000-strong workforce worked remotely for the day. Pip Marlow believes it is becoming increasingly important to enable employees to operate remotely in a mobile workplace by ensuring they have the tools and the mentality to do so. This includes having the proper phone, having the correct cloud technology to support them, and focusing on the results rather than the monitoring process.
Launching a virtual desktop on any capable laptop or tablet is now possible, and mobile computing devices, cloud-based applications, video conferencing, instant messaging, and even social networking are all alternatives for keeping the workforce linked in remote areas. Furthermore, the flexibility to work remotely or flexibly eliminates a significant amount of lost time commuting and other benefits such as reduced absenteeism, increased staff retention, and improved capacity to transact business across several time zones.
Mayer’s statement claimed that “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” however according to Vanson Bourne’s Citrix research, 83% of over 1,000 CIOs in 11 countries agree that flexible working boosts productivity.
While lowering the office footprint can save money, several IT considerations must be made to enable a remote or flexible workforce.
Maintaining or creating a healthy corporate culture is undoubtedly one of the problems for firms with a remote or flexible workforce, especially given the high emphasis on internet communication. There are likely to be even more job options in the future in a digitally empowered environment. Decision-makers can strike a balance by investing in technology that allows for worker flexibility while still recognizing the value of face time in the real world.
Neil Atkinson is the founder of Dominos, an HR outsourcing and employment legal firm.
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