Is the office dead? No, not that TV show, the real place that many of us have worked in over the years.
What got me started on this was reading on line a posting from a public sector facilities management colleague talking about some of the alternative ways of working and plans to do things that I’d done, also in the public sector 15 years or so ago. There’s nothing new under the sun, but in the same week I also read something on the mayor’s plans for transport in London whereby, if my memory serves me correctly, they were talking about catering for a significant growth in the numbers of people coming to work in central London in the coming years.
Now, as I mentioned above, I can recall being involved with a working party with HR and IT colleagues many years ago through which we did all sorts of things including drop in centres, hot desks, shared desks, hotelling and much more. We changed the working hours of buildings and even worked with business neighbours, bus companies and local councils to change public transport routes and timetables, almost eliminating the rush hour at one location, green commuting being high in the agenda before I remember hearing that as a term.
Charting my own work style and pattern, I find it a little ironic looking back that, having got far enough up the greasy pole to have landed the corner office and a share in a secretary, I gave up that office for something smaller, but in the middle of the action, then shifted myself into the open plan, then to a shared desk before, in about 1999, becoming truly location independent, i.e.; I worked out of the back of the car, hotel lobbies, supermarket coffee bars or anywhere that I could find, but this would often be, say it quietly, an office.
I can remember 30 odd years ago a lot of trumpeting about the paperless office and yet that is still nowhere near a reality. Yes, we have embraced email, but it has done nothing to eliminate paper; we’ve seen more success in that goal from electronic invoicing and payment systems. Photocopiers and printers still proliferate with all of their other environmental impacts besides paper consumption.
Our offices have certainly changed over the 40+ years that I’ve been at work, but I would argue that this change has come from social factors as much as from technological and operational ones. We don’t have the same hierarchical structures that we used to. Work is much less formal and I believe that it will be the social factor that does as much to shape the future of the office as anything else.
Humans are sociable animals, and there are synergies that come from having us in one place. Yes you can do that virtually, but the dynamics of having us in one place at the same time can’t be beaten, especially when you add the ingredient of the infrastructure that an office provides.
Technology will play its part, but that will be shaped by the demand of the people. All of the gadgets that we enjoy and the way that we use them is coming from us folks. They aren’t being forced on us; the way we use the current generation of phones, computers and other gizmos shapes the next wave, and that will be with us soon enough.
My belief is that the same factors apply to the way we use offices. I don’t know what tomorrow’s office will look like, but there will be one, I’m sure.
I first worked from home in the early 1980s and I’ve now been doing it full time for 8 years. My ten top tips for survival are:
1 – Have a timetable. I’m an early riser, and usually working around 0600. I make a point of going no later that 0800 before getting upstairs for a shave, shower and get some clothes on; at least smart casual – going native is not clever. If you’re smart and looking ready for work, you’ll think like work: Behave like a slob and it’ll show in your work,
2 – Schedule your day in whatever way works for you, but take breaks. I don’t do more that 90 minutes on the computer without stopping to do something different. A brisk walk round the block a couple of times a day is good. It gets the blood flowing and that gets oxygen into the brain. Other 15 minute distractions I’ll use include time in the garden doing a little weeding or pruning or to do some prep work on tonight’s dinner.
3 – Set yourself deadlines and monitor progress. Plan to get x number of calls made, write x hundred words or to finish certain tasks (or make a start on them). Use a desk diary or put it on Outlook or your phone or whatever, but do have a plan for the day/week/month.
4 – It’s easy to forget to eat and drink properly and neither omission will do you any good. Avoid too much caffeine, and eat sensible foods. One way of taking a break I use is to prepare a decent lunch. I take my food break at the dining table as well, sat up properly to aid digestion. Always aim to take your refreshment breaks at regular times.
5 – Try to have a working area set up in the home so that you do, if effect, go to the office and leave the office. It is an important psychological break point. If you don’t have a separate area and have to use the couch or the dining table then have a couple of stacking crates that you keep your files and working stuff in so that you can pack away and put the boxes in the corner. You have to maintain separate home and office regimes.
6 – One of my cyber pals talks about life – work harmony. He doesn’t like the term Balance in this context and I think that he’s right. It is more about harmony in your life and ensuring that you, and the other people in your life, feel good about your lifestyle.
7 – Replace those water cooler moments with some other form of business contact. For me that’s a business club. What you need is a couple of hours every couple of weeks where you can relax and chat with fellow business people from a variety of functions. If there are presentations you’ll learn from them and get the chance to do your own which practices another skill.
8 – Don’t feel guilty about time shifting your hours. If you want to use daylight or weekdays for something personal, as long as you hit your deadlines, do it, but try to make the time in advance by putting the evening or weekend hours in first: It’s hard to play catch up.
9 – Stay safe: Take care with cables and extension leads even if you are the only one home. Keep information and equipment secure, and do your back ups. It’s your office.
10 – Have fun – otherwise there’s no point.