Offices aren’t a thing of the past – Barclays Boss. Here’s why….
In the 1990s there was offshoring, the process of sending manufacturing jobs to countries with low wage costs. The 2000s saw more jobs were nearshored, sending administrative jobs to countries with cheap labour and similar timezones. In the 2020’s will we see ‘homeshoring’, sending office jobs away from the office and into our homes? Offices aren’t a thing of the past, are they?
Countless businesses and unhappy partners are concerned the office may be a thing of the past. I list below reasons why landlords, Pret a Manger and security guards should not worry too much.
Your Age Matters
As Rajesh Chandy points out, the younger you are the easier you will find changing your habits. Generation Alpha, born in early 2010s may take to working from home quickly and easily however, their Generation X, Y and Z bosses won’t be so quick to shift behaviours.
Until Generation Alpha take up senior positions the office is safe. FOMO
Few people have spotted that no one misses the office because no one else is there. As soon as colleagues reappear at their workstation how we feel about the office will change. Our instinctive need for social inclusion and fear of missing out (FOMO) will drive us back to the office.
Right now, managers around the world are nervously wondering what on earth their line reports are up to. The office is an excellent solution to this problem.
Even tech giants which could easily ask employees to work from home (Facebook, Google etc) still have vast, expensive offices.
There are exceptions, for example the Chinese produce of TikTok, ByteDance. They reject offices altogether. However, they replace office monitoring with a level of technological surveillance that makes 1984 look like Teletubbies (See Vice video here for more).
‘The office’ has been gutted
In The Office, the excellent BBC comedy shot in 2001, David Brent has his own office and his employees have workstations. If The Office were filmed today David Brent would have to compete daily for desk space. He would also discover no one listened to his ‘jokes’ because everyone was listening to music on their noise cancelling headphones.
The office has been converted into such an unwelcoming place for employees that many prefer cafes to their office. Were the office to revert to its original offering of a fixed seat and close proximity to team members it would undergo a renaissance.
Working from home brings with it new mental health problems. Workdays and weekends become less distinguishable and the line between free time and work time becomes blurred.
Some may find the isolation appealing but for many it is a demotivating factor. The office provides a spring of support and encouragement.
Businesses are supposedly obsessed with innovation. In Where Good Ideas Come From Steven Johnson identifies four sources of innovation, one of them being serendipity. Organisations such as Google spend millions of dollars designing offices that encourage serendipity through the social engineering of chance encounters.
The idea of innovation through serendipity is not new. Back in 1947 Max Pertuz set-up the MLB lab, home to 12 noble prizes. Perutz’s wife designed the lab canteen to encourage chance encounters.
Home working is not conducive to innovation. Slack, Yammer and other software solutions may claim they cleverly uncover innovation but they have yet to replace the water cooler chit-chat.
One day Tech Will be Good enough…
The digital world is increasingly competing for our attention but right now people prefer to live in the real world. However, Daniel Miessler is right to point out that soon this may change (but not yet).
Conclusion: Offices aren’t a thing of the past
The Barclays announcement that ‘offices may be a thing of the past’ does not signal the end of the office. It signals just how slow banks have been to adopt modern work practices. Most businesses have been employing a mix of home and office working for years. But it’s a mix, not an abandonment of offices altogether.
I run a software business, I can work from a bar next to a pool, a café, my bed but I choose to work in shared office space. I’m driven to socialize with others, have a work place where I belong and partition my home and work life. Until Generation Alpha replaces me the office is safe.
29 April 2020
Jes Staley, the CEO of Barclays Bank reportedly said big offices:
May be a thing of the past