In the modern era, physical office spaces have seen massive revolution. Tech companies like Google and Airbnb tout the concept of “hot seats” or the “open office” layout to foster creativity, cross-pollination, and easier collaboration. These setups are both a marked physical as well as cultural departure from office spaces of the past, and specifically eschew the corporate, sterile aesthetic associated with law firms and investment banks.
However, now, even offices are being disrupted, as the new workspaces favored by tech entrepreneurs no longer have any resemblance to an actual office, but rather can be in a cafe, on a beach in Bali, or from a mobile device in the middle of a walk through a park. Remote work has been on the rise, with an estimated 3.9 million Americans working remotely at least part-time, and the trend is only rising.
Mobile phones and laptops are the main tools of the service economy, with designers, software engineers, consultants, financial advisors, bloggers, screenwriters, artists, editors, and others spending the vast majority of their time working online.
Even client-facing interactions are increasingly moving to the digital domain, with ever-more sophisticated customer engagement tools like chatbots, marketing automation software, automated phone systems, and knowledge databases. Meetings with clients can take place via phone or video conference. And even dictation and collaboration software makes it easier to both record meeting minutes and also bring different stakeholders to the table when working on a project that might have been limited in scope due to physical proximity constraints.
The implications for remote work are massive. Companies’ budgets for business travel can be significantly reduced, so that in-person meetings are reserved for crucial team-building among workers, or initial rapport-building conversations with clients. But it reduces the need to catch a redeye flight across the country or across the world for a 2 hour meeting. Workers can be more efficient and productive without having to waste so much time commuting, either to an office or to a conference room. And it expands the pie: team members can be easily drawn into the discussion when relevant, because they are only a dial away.
As the workplace evolves, it is important to think critically about all components of what we take for granted as normal in the workplaces of the past. Desks, seats, addresses, office hours, face-time, etc. Instead, employers and workers of the future ask: “What am I trying to accomplish? And how will that be accomplished?”
Focusing on the priorities and tools that matter will both enable businesses to be more efficient while allowing workers greater flexibility and productivity.