Flexible approach to working

Going through my weekly news feeds I came across some thoughts by Guy Horton on dissolving office space as we know it. In article “The Indicator: My Head is in the Cloud Office” he discusses flexible approach to work, one that should be embraced by architects. I would extend it to majority of professions where work does not need to happen at work, i.e. people not in front-line services. There are some good reasons for this phenomena, some are described in rather amusing way by Jason Fried in his presentation that can be found at TED web page.

Quite understandably people are more creative and even effective in environments that suite them best. Some are more concentrated and effective at the office, some anywhere, but the office. This is due to distractions in the office. I used to take Friday as my admin day that I spent working from home just to wrap up the week and concentrate on the tasks from that week. On the flip side, managers (and not only those micro-managing their workforce) are afraid of lost productivity.

Guy offered a solution by ‘Cloud Office’ where people actually get together in to office when actually required of when just stopping by. Using the up-to-date toolkit – mobile broadband, Skype, Google Apps, Microsoft Live Meeting, Citrix, Webex, etc. – mobile workforce does not really need the office in its traditional form. What Guy described is actually in existence already – well, at least as a term. It is ‘virtual office’ as defined here and offered by various service providers.

I believe this is the only way in the future for the small and medium size firms. There are yet many team leaders and line managers though who believe that good results can be only achieved by attending the office 9-5 with overtime allowed where required… Instead they should look into offering flexible working to their workforce. At the end of the day, what difference it makes if I my day starts at 11:00 and I finish around 20:00? If I am not a morning person, there is no way I am going to be active and effective before lunchtime.

There are a few factors that may make generation X managers to embrace the approach which generation Y wants to follow:

  • Higher rents in dense urban areas (read: cities) drive people further out to suburbs, smaller towns and countryside.
  • Finding talent from ‘your’ area is getting more difficult.
  • Cost of running the office.
  • Flexibility – contract staff can be hired for when the need is higher, again at lower cost.
  • Weather – no explanation needed here. Just look outside your window, dear UK reader! How is the work supposed to get don in these circumstances when people can’t get out of their homes!?
  • Travel – cost again in many cases. Working in virtual functional or project teams where team members do/can not have in the same location.
  • Time – this is what we usually don’t have. Time spent on travel for average londoner is getting near 2 hours each day.

The cost is only one factor, but a great one. To run an office in a city centre is luxury for many smaller firms. Hence some start-ups rent phones and mailboxes in the City and space (if at all) in less reputable areas.

Those who follow more traditional approach face costs around £2000 for a new office workplace. This takes account all the IT kit, licensing and furniture and is rather moderate.

There are some variations though as many companies only work effectively when there is a number of contributors around the table. Having worked in IT department where the four people dealt with infrastructure and application support sitting opposite to one another, this approach was a necessity to meet the SLA’s. I came across this solution in London advertising agency Mother. They built a long table where everyone sits. Or actually, the staff moves around not to get too comfortable and start nesting in their corner. Being an established, successful agency and part of a larger group one may be able to afford to lease / buy / rent large office space and turn it into creative powerhouse with enough room to think. This is unfortunately a no-go for small start-up’s.

Image courtesy of Mothers Who Work.

In my view there are way more professions than just creative industry that can do without the traditional office. Designers, software houses, roaming engineers, accountants – this list could be quite long. All that businesses need to do is think and plan ahead before making any long term commitments.

We do not need fancy offices to get Britain economy moving again, we need more innovation, creative ideas, less traditional approach and government support.