The Officeless Office:
I remember many years ago no, my parents had a small family business; an office equipment and stationary company. It was flourishing - supplying typewriter ribbons, till rolls, fountain pens, adding machines and calculators, and most especially reams and reams of paper.
There came a time when I was making decisions on what to do when I left school. Should I go to college, or stay and earn crust in the family firm? But the mega giants in the world of business equipment had started to make some unsettling predictions. IBM, Sperry Remington and Xerox all thought the day of the 'paperless office' was imminent and the computer dynasty was upon us...
With our family fortune potentially dashed I resolved to go to university. There'd be no future in stationary for me in this brave new paperless world.
Now fast forward almost forty years and our workplace is still stuffed full of paper. Well it was until just a few weeks ago, when something quite amazing happened. Overnight, the paperless office finally came of age. Lockdown forced us to grasp and embrace this much heralded concept, and to finally realise those forty year old predictions. IBM, Remington and Xerox, were right all along.
Our new world of work is clearly going to look very different. Can we continue to pay homage to the great money gods via those shimmering Canary Wharf monoliths? Especially when it's necessary to book your elevator trip to the twelfth floor two weeks in advance. The boss of Barclays Bank has suggested that the days of stuffing 7,000 souls into one building may now be a thing of the past. Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley's CEO says they'll halve their real estate holdings. Businesses everywhere are threatening to take their money out of property investment and over-blown leases and perhaps instead invest in 'their people'.
Certainly, there's a realisation that those open plan factories of office efficiency will come to be seen as breeding grounds for infection; impossible to manage when it comes to social distancing and requiring constant rounds of deep cleaning.
We've all done the seemingly impossible by grasping the virtual world. In so doing, we've turned the slow, often over-anticipated evolution of the workplace into a revolution. It's a shock to the system and it's hard to see where we might end up. Most probably in our slippers, working from home.
Global Workspace Analytics estimate that once the pandemic is over, at least 30% of the office-based workforce will continue to be home based. Twitter have told their workforce they can continue to work from home indefinitely. Furthermore, Twitter VP and serial Podcaster, Bruce Daisley declared in his recent publication 'The Joy Of Work' (2020) that anyone who thinks we're going back to the way things were, is frankly bananas.
There are other less tangible things going on too. Today, we share a common experience. We've been humbled and humanised by that glimpse of our collegue's front room or study, the sound of their dogs barking and children playing - even on the other side of the world. But most of all, we've come through something life-threatening and life-changing, and we've done this together.
That shared experience and bringing together of humanity will not have been lost on many. The opportunities for communal and collegiate working, not only across disciplines but right across organisations and industry sectors, has positive potential going forward.
What will this mean for our own sector? Might we see at least 30% of professional body workforces continue to work from home? Might some of us realise there is no longer any need for such palatial central offices? Could we see a proliferation of smaller hubs around the country located in leafy rural business parks? We've proved again and again that location is no longer the deciding factor in how we allocate and manage our human resources.
More modestly perhaps we will likely see smaller, more intimate office spaces, workplace attendance by rota and a myriad of hybrid solutions between home and workplace. We might even see multi organisational hubs with any number of different professional bodies sharing key functions. Professional Bodies are unlikely to disappear because of the COVID-19 challenge, but they are likely to consolidate and combine remaining resources in order to meet their members' needs.
We could even solve our homeless problem for good on the back of a mass exodus from our glass plated high-rise workplaces. Even hard-nosed developers and investors will have been warmed by the common experiences they've been forced to share with the rest of humanity.
One thing is for sure; we've seen the advent of the paperless office. Forty years late, but it has arrived. If I were looking to grow my capital, I would not be looking to invest in paper mills or glass plate, anytime soon.