Our workspaces are changing like never before. These days you’re as likely to find workers toiling away from the airport, a coffee shop or the kitchen table as you would from an office. Let’s look back at the rapid transformation of the workplace.
I have bad news for corporate architects, space planners, furniture manufacturers and hardware and software companies everywhere.
The days of putting us in boxes, either literally forcing us to collaborate from tiny cubicles and uninspiring conference rooms or stereotyping us as desk-centric or road warriors, are coming to an end.
And not a minute too soon.
The formula for collaboration circa 2017 is changing before our eyes. New technologies combined with shifting attitudes about employee autonomy mean that knowledge workers like us are no longer tethered to our desks, offices or even a centralized corporate headquarters.
As a result, work is no longer a place we go; rather, it’s something we do. And we’re increasingly doing it from anywhere: From the kitchen table, the quiet corner of a coffee shop, airport lounge, hotel room or maybe even a park bench beneath a maple tree.
It’s a win-win for everyone involved. Employees appreciate the job flexibility and sense of empowerment. Companies benefit from greater employee morale and productivity as well as reduced infrastructure and overhead costs.
This change has been in the works for some time, but I recently witnessed the contrast between the old and new ways of working – and marveled at how far we’ve come so quickly.
Two Worlds Collide
I was visiting a company that was moving out of a location it had been in for decades. As the CEO and I traversed halls strewn with moving boxes, we came across one of many conference rooms. We peeked inside and saw a space that was a testament to a quickly fading era.
The room was massive, with a mahogany table in the middle that seemed to stretch for miles. Huge leather chairs were positioned around it, and a giant whiteboard, with multicolored scribbling still on it, occupied part of one wall. At a time when the pace of business was slower and decisions were made more deliberately, this is where papers were shuffled, discussions held, strategies debated and plans agreed upon.
A couple hours later, I’d wrapped up my visit and was back at the airport – and may as well have been in another world. The same collaboration that once was done in that oak-paneled conference room was being carried out here – only in a dramatically different fashion.
Everywhere I looked people were collaborating in a uniquely 21st century way. Headsets firmly in place, some were squeezing in urgent calls from the airport gate while others hovered over their notebooks, reviewing financial statements, sharing information and dashing off IMs to coworkers. In the business center, two workers huddled around a speakerphone, undoubtedly collaborating with colleagues or customers somewhere, while another, smartphone held at arm’s length, made an animated and urgent point during a videoconference.
That day it became crystal clear to me: We no longer need meeting rooms or cubicles to collaborate, because those meeting rooms and cubicles are now, quite literally, all around us.
So, sorry all you architects, space planners and software designers. We’ve broken free from our tiny offices and soulless conference rooms – and we don’t plan to return anytime soon.