When we say "the end of the office," we're not talking about the long-running hit NBC-TV show, although that is ending as well. No, we're referring to transformative changes taking place in terms of how we work, where we work, and who is performing the work. I am going to take a couple of posts this week to go into these areas, and look at the ramifications of these shifts.

Let's begin with the physical workplace itself, that centralized place where many go to sit in the same cubicle in front of the same computer every day.

According to Aimee Groth and Max Nisen, the authors of this Future of Business series sponsored by SAP, the workplace of the future is going to be less centralized, more mobile, and more flexible than anything most people outside the startup and freelance economy have experienced before. And the trend's going to be accelerated by rapid uptake of mobile technology, economic volatility, and the global war for top talent.

Here are some specific reasons they are predicting the death of the office:

  • The fast-rising upward trend line of global Internet adoption is changing our concept of what work is
  • In a flat world with a knowledge economy, information is the currency, and it matters little whether the "source" of that information emanates from a Fortune 50 enterprise network or a smartphone in a coffee shop
  • Distance means less, or nothing at all, in an increasingly virtual world
  • As our workforce becomes more fragmented, and mobile (smartphones and tablets) adoption rates rise, the office won't necessarily be a fixed location
  • Tools such as Evernote, Dropbox and other file-sharing platforms are making it easier not to have to come to the office to do the work
  • This technology allows us to work with anyone, anytime and anywhere
  • Companies that maintain physical work spaces will opt for more open floor plans and creative use of space
  • Employees might be encouraged to switch desks and work spaces regularly to stoke creativity
  • "Assigned" desks and cubes will be less necessary and less common
  • Office furniture will be more comfortable - and more movable

"Work will happen anywhere, anytime, 24/7, and we will work from home, cafés, airports, or while commuting, as long as we have the technology available," says Luc Kamperman from Veldhoen + Company, one of the world's leading consulting firms in activity-based work styles. "When we do come to the office, it will be because we want to learn from each other, to connect with each other, and to feel part of a community. But it will be less about individual work. The question is, are we culturally ready for this?"

Offices, as we know them today, were initially created as support for manufacturing sites. Eventually, offices moved to cities and suburbs, and turned into places to actually do work, to have meetings, to create and store documents and so on.

[caption id="attachment_19264" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Microsoft Office"][/caption]

Mattias Hällström, Director of Research & Development, and co-founder of the UK-based online collaboration tool company Projectplace, says in the future, it is very unlikely there will be a dedicated place for work. And that the concept of a workplace will change or disappear altogether.

"Technically speaking, we have the tools we need to do our jobs virtually anywhere we choose. But that’s not the end of the story. Humans are a very social species and interaction with others is an important part of going to work. Research has shown that significant parts of our brain are devoted to social interaction and thrive when we are finding, creating and sustaining human relationships."

Klaus Holse of Microsoft's Amsterdam office, says there are a number of things to consider, besides tools and technology.

"You've got to be thoughtful about what you're doing, because not all positions in a company are created equal. If you're in the HR department for example, the physical requirement for you to be at the office is probably higher than if you're a consultant."

A happier workforce? Increased productivity? Higher sales as well as cost savings? Those are the ideas behind the work from anywhere, connected office.

In our next post we'll look at what some of these changes in tools and technology and physical space mean to the workforce.

Tags: Industry, Mobile, Mobile Development, Changing workplace, The end of the office, Virtual offices, Workplace of the future