Will offices still exist in the future?

I’m currently doing a five-city speaking tour for Canon, speaking about the future of workspace. In my keynote I talk about the driving forces of change in work and organizations, the changing nature of the workspace, and the leadership required to create the next phase of work.

Until recently there were two major workspaces for knowledge work: offices and field work. Communication technologies, economic shifts, and changing corporate attitudes have enabled the rapid rise of home workers. In addition, co-working facilities or what I call the cloud workplace are becoming prominent in providing many of advantages to workers of office work without requiring commuting into a central office.

When we think about the future of workspace, given the massive shift to distributed work, the question arises of whether centralized office will still have a reason to exist in the future.

Some futurists suggest the massive city offices of today will transition into “vertical farms” which will be converted for food production. It’s a nice idea, but we’re a long way from that happening.

Some of the reasons that large organizations will continue to exist are predicated on capital and infrastructure. However there is also real value from deep relationships of mutual trust that enable effective collaboration.

Trust is built from extended experience of how your counterpart works across all conditions, including of stress. It is augmented by extended social interactions that allow you to know your colleague as a complete person, not just a worker.

While an immense amount can be achieved in virtual teams, the reality is that extended physical proximity is an enormous enabler of mutual experience and trust, which in turn supports collaboration, innovation, and high-performance teams.

In addition, it is very difficult to sustain a strong corporate culture without people spending significant time together.

Unquestionably an enormous amount will be achieved by distributed workers, and employees will frequently work from home, co-working spaces, or in the field. Yet the value of a common space means that offices will continue to exist, and be at the heart of high-performance organizations.

That leads to the issue of what the office workspaces of the future will need to be like to support that value. I’ll write more on that another day.

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