HR Dilemma: Will the traditional office become extinct?

HR Dilemma: Will the traditional office become extinct?

With the increase in demand for flexible working and with technological advances enabling roles to be remote, realistically, everyone that works in an office environment could work from home.

“We’re currently on the brink of the cloud-based fourth industrial revolution that looks set to shake things up to an extent we’ve never seen before,” according to Brett Riley, Global Business Development Director at Nexus PSL.

“Already, businesses across the globe are taking advantage of these new capabilities that allow them to employ the best person for the job, regardless of location, personality or even language. This kind of approach has worked well so far for smaller companies that can adapt quickly to change, while larger businesses bound by their own red tape are struggling to catch up.”

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Amanda Powell Smith, CEO at Forster Communications, agrees that the workplace is changing, and it’s a positive, as it encourages employers to keep up with employee demands - especially regarding an ageing workforce.  

A report by the Resolution foundation think-tank found that by 2040, nearly one in seven Britons will be over 75. The report also found that almost a third of people born today can expect to live to 100.

“The traditional office is and should be in a constant state of revolution to keep up with technology and enable all employees to find and keep fulfilling work,” she says. “Flexible working needs to be recognised as a massive opportunity for both employer and employee. The real challenge is not people spending too much time out of the office, it’s that increasingly they will spend more years of their lives in it. The workplace of the future will be far more diverse in terms of age, with workers who stay into their 60s and 70s as the norm, challenging current preconceptions and forcing new ways of working.”

Philip Price, Chief Executive of workplace review business WorkAdvisor, however, thinks that the traditional office environment will remain the norm for the majority of workers for many years to come.

“According to government figures, over four million people, or around 14% of the workforce, now work from home, a rise of around 800,000 in a decade,” says Price. “It’s never been easier to work from home with modern communications, so that trend is sure to continue.

“But for many reasons, the vast majority still work in an office with traditional nine-to-five working hours. Many workers want to come together and share the same collective experiences - after all, we are social animals.

“People who work in teams need to be clear on their business and personal objectives, but it’s tough to have absolute clarity when you don’t see and interact with your manager or co-workers. Workers need to express themselves and check things out, often physically with their colleagues. For managers, much of their time is, or should be, taken up with coaching, interacting with the team and delivering quality feedback. Be honest, has this ever really worked over skype or by an email?”

Price adds that human interaction is vital to keep people motivated at work. Powell Smith agrees that communication is fundamental to keep a workforce engaged, but productivity is more important than presence: “Communications is critical at all levels of the company, from senior teams through line managers to job starters, with recognition for skills and results rather than hours at the desk or years in the role.  Only by creating and respecting tailored rather than generic job specs will we be able to maximise the potential of each individual and keep up with the rapid changes taking place.”

Riley remains optimistic about these rapid advancements: “There should be no grief over the ‘death of the office’. On the contrary, we should be excited for this new beginning that brings opportunity for businesses and workers across the world.”

Jeff Flanagan, Managing Director - Commerical at Interserve, agrees: "Some employers have welcomed flexible working as a way to cut office overheads, but this misses the point. The shift towards flexibility does not mean the death of the office, but instead it should signal its evolution. Modern offices need to be engaging and collaborative spaces that cater fully to a diverse workforce."

“When designed and managed well, the office is a valuable tool to drive organisational performance. When it comes to meeting the needs of a new generation of workers, employers should strike a balance between creating an attractive workplace and offering flexible alternatives too.”

Do you think that the traditional office as we know it will become extinct? Tell us in the comments…

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