The rise of flexible hours, mobile and remote working, and hot-desking are challenging the traditional office environment. Many workforces are no longer required to diligently travel to an office building on a daily basis to sit at a dedicated desk, and this trend is rapidly growing. The technological changes outlined previously will have a fundamental impact on physical workspaces, from a desk-level, to the office building and the towns and cities they are located in. New, innovative working environments will emerge that are no longer tied to a single location, providing the catalyst for the new human cloud.

The ‘Human Cloud’

The shift in working practices has moved well beyond the need to accommodate individual requests for flexible home working options. Employees are demanding new ways of working, and whether it’s from a coffee shop, logging into a network from another site, or setting up a home office, the technologies are available to mobilize the workforce. As a result, businesses will no longer operate from static, physical places. Instead, employees will work within a ‘human cloud’, supporting companies from limitless locations. Mitel research has revealed the importance of a dedicated home office too, with the majority (62%) of people who work from home preferring a dedicated work space that is distinctly separate from the rest of their home - and they believe they work better as a result. The chartered building surveyor behind the OfficePOD concept, Stephen Tanner, predicts home office innovation will come from creating productive working environments outside of the spare room. 

"An organization cannot promote the idea of flexible working and merely cover the provision of a desk and a chair in a spare room. Employers have a duty to provide staff with the tools they need to work effectively and productively; this should include a suitable working environment, wherever that happens to be. This type of benefit could be a replacement for the traditional company car, which would also encourage greener practices." –Stephen Tanner, Founder OfficePOD LTD

Offices: Real Estate Reassessed and Rationalized

Offices no longer need to be places where employees regularly go to work, and some companies are realizing they don’t need physical office space at all. By embracing the human cloud and virtual working, many businesses will find they can perform effectively without a single fixed location. Those who continue to rely on centralized, physical offices will view and use them in an entirely different way, turning them into hot-desking and collaborative working environments. Desk space will be a shared resource, utilized by any number of workers through plug-and-play technologies such as UC and desktop virtualization.

Virtual Desks

The future of desks is virtual. The concept of isolating an operating system from a physical device is not a new idea and according to Gartner around 10% of mid-sized organizations have already deployed desktop virtualization. The step change lies in the ‘desktop’ itself. As Gartner predicted the ‘personal cloud’ will replace the personal computer as the center of users’ digital lives by 2014, eliminating the focus on individually-owned PCs and laptops. Rather than taking ownership of a physical space, workers will be able to access their office in the cloud at a moment’s notice from any device. Mitel research supports Gartner’s predictions, revealing the reliance that newer entrants to the workforce have on smartphones, tablets and multiple screens.

The Cityscape

Despite the evolution of the human cloud and demand for remote working, it is likely that access to a professional office will continue to be required for in-person connection. However, this does not mean privately-owned, centrally located real estate. Instead, smart shared work centers will give easy access to meeting space, enabling businesses to take advantage of on-demand reception services and other business support services. Serviced office companies such as Regus and Avanta with shared and/or temporary office spaces were once seen as suited to small and start-up businesses that could not commit to obtaining their own real estate. But attitudes are shifting and the prestige associated with owned property is likely to diminish. Longer-term, we expect to see traditional offices replaced with purpose-built, economical buildings based on collaborative spaces, shared by multiple organizations. As a result, concentrated ‘city’ areas will become diluted, as workers look for shorter commutes and access to business centers dispersed across larger regions.

 “We’ve converted an unused part of our headquarters into a flexible workspace for local businesses and entrepreneurs, where instead of long-term leases we offer far more flexible facilities, and that goes for everything from individual offices to collaborative spaces. People pay a monthly subscription and can drop in and use our facilities by the hour, or even just visit our café, which means they’re part of a community even though most work fairly independently.” –Rob Charlton, CEO, Space Group

Rob Charlton of Space Group adds: “London is choked; and the recession has meant that many companies are paying through the nose for office space which is currently left empty. Companies are now increasingly looking for shorter, flexible leases that can grow and contract with the business, which is a practice that would really help streamline London’s real estate whilst promoting profitability for businesses.”

This will drive a lasting change in the landscape of cities as we now know them, which could become weighted towards residential and retail buildings, while we look to less concentrated, easy to access areas on the outskirts to house other commercial buildings. Suburban borders will blur and there will be a positive impact on transport networks, as congestion bottlenecks are eased and widespread uptake of homeworking or working in satellite offices dramatically reduces fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Workers will appreciate significant time and cost savings too, as commutes are moved off-peak or eradicated completely, and the average worker commute of over 200 hours a year is reduced dramatically.




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