Modern offices

It is interesting visiting corporate offices these days and comparing them to how they were like 20 years ago.

Many physical buildings were designed and built at least 20 years ago but are now occupied by today’s trends. This means, the building no longer suits the way corporations want to use building spaces, but the rational decision is to make do, rather than demolish and rebuild, as long as there is an economic life in the asset.

Grand entrance halls and foyers are now often empty. A single, lonely person may sit at the front desk. Visitor car parks have plenty of empty spaces. Sign-in books can remain on the same page for days. Meeting rooms clustered near the entrance foyer are empty.

The modern usage of building space has changed. Often, the business visitor will arrive at a door with a telephone to use to call the individual and let them know you have arrived. No live receptionist needed.

The buildings were designed for different times. Times when business matters were more physical and less virtual, before the days of agile working. Technology changes have meant that a laptop at home is effectively the same as being connected in the office. Data access, security, connectivity and so on are identical. Consequently it becomes possible to ‘work from home’ with a digital signature indistinguishable from that generated by sitting in a corporate office. In an agile office, the ratio of desks (or workstations) to employees can be less than 1. Conservative businesses that have transitioned have set the ratio around 75% to 80%. From my observation, it could be lowered.

Given that we are just beginning to deconstruct jobs into tasks (1 job per person to become many tasks fulfilled by many people or artificial intelligence in different ways), the office of the 21st century probably has more changes on the way.

While the office is less important in many ways than it used to be, there were advantages inherent in the old system that we haven’t yet figured out how to replicate in the modern workplace. The human connection, the interaction, the chance meeting and the collegiate value that came from a range of people working together in close proximity has value. The agile mobile cloud-connected wifi enabled employee on a lap-top has not yet figured out how to add that value back to the customer.