William Gibson, the celebrated science fiction writer, said “The future’s already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”.
This certainly applies to the world of work. The way we work has changed massively over the past 30 or so years – the open-plan nature of today’s offices is very different from the ones I once worked in, for example, whilst when travelling to visit customers you’re now expected to read emails and take phone calls (please don’t do that whilst driving!). In short, we’re all more connected and available than at any time in the past.
But one thing has stayed the same in all that time: the office. The place you go every day. Amidst all this change, the big head office is still the status symbol of an organisation.
But do we really need it?
There are plenty of new companies, often technically savvy and mostly young, that would tell you that you don’t need an office at all.
Of course there are exceptions to this – retailers are going to need shops (except for Amazon, one of the biggest retailers in the world), and manufacturers are going to need factories (except for Dyson, which no longer owns factories). Oh, and companies that deliver things are going to need warehouses (unless of course they use one of many third party logistics specialists).
The point I am getting at here is simple. The reality is that most companies use their offices for just one thing: face-to-face meetings.
Now I’m not going to tell you that face-to-face meetings aren’t needed – they are an important part of planning, collaborating and doing business – but I do believe we have too many of them.
In fact, most discussions can take place over the phone, on a video conference or an audio conference. Most collaboration is about a document, a presentation, or a spreadsheet – most of the time, we don’t need to meet face-to-face.
And if we were to do fewer face-to-face meetings, maybe we’d enjoy them more.
The technology to do this is already in place – it’s just not distributed or utilised very well yet.