“Their tallest buildings are no longer cathedrals or temples but multi-storey vats filled with workers.”
Catherine Nixey in her article “Death of the Office” asks “What was the point of them anyway?
The 20th century Industrial Age was the age of concentrated scale. Blue collar factories dominated the first half. And then as work became abstracted from physical into knowledge work, offices became the white collar factories of the second half of the 1900s. They were the industrial workflow computing mainframes.
The 21st century Digital Age is the age of distributed processing. The long tail of disintermediated object oriented processing. The Internet is simply a robust architecture for distributed processing and only one example of the distributed processing revolution in information processing itself.
In the distributed world, offices are as obsolete as piles of inventory in the JIT supply chain or paper-filled inboxes on the desk of a administrative clerk.
Nixey explores the profound obsolescence of this centralised model
- “Even before coronavirus struck, the reign of the office had started to look a little shaky. A combination of rising rents, the digital revolution and increased demands for flexible working meant its population was slowly emigrating to different milieux. More than half of the American workforce already worked remotely, at least some of the time. Across the world, home working had been rising steadily for a decade. Pundits predicted that it would increase further. No one imagined that a dramatic spike would come so soon.”
- “Offices have always been profoundly flawed spaces. Those of the East India Company, among the world’s first, were built more for bombast than bureaucracy. They were sermons in stone, and the solidity of every marble step, the elegance of every Palladian pillar, were intended to speak volumes about the profitability and smooth functioning within. This was nonsense, of course. Created to ensure efficiency, offices immediately institutionalised idleness. A genteel arms race arose as managers tried to make their minions work, and the minions tried their damnedest to avoid it. East India House, in which Lamb worked, could give call centres a run for their money in the art of micro-managing.”
Nixey catalogues the toxic effects of chronic sedentariness, secret parenting and preservation of privilege, but in the end acknowledges the office does have some saving graces like escape from home life (liberation through artifice), community, and the “chemistry of the unexpected” serendipity. I acknowledge the lattermost benefits and must admit I’ve never advocated for the “death” of the office. Just the demise of its over-use and misuse.
Out with the old and in with the new…
This media icon says goodbye with a coincidentally an image itself portraying another anachronism of the 21st century…the office building.
Dynamic Work looks to forge ahead strongly in 2012 according to the latest research on top trends reported in Time magazine’s “The Beginning of the End of the 9-to-5 Workday?”…
“The traditional eight-hour workday may soon be the exception rather than the rule. New evidence shows that we’re reaching a tipping point in terms of workplace flexibility, with businesses seeing the wisdom of allowing employees — young ones especially — to work odd hours, telecommute and otherwise tweak the usual 9-to-5 grind. One of the top 12 trends for 2012 as named by the communications firm Euro RSCG Worldwide is that employees in the Gen Y, or millennial, demographic — those born between roughly 1982 and 1993 — are overturning the traditional workday.”
- Gen Y workers won’t accept jobs where they can’t access Facebook.
- Gen Y-ers value workplace flexibility over more money.
- Gen Y workers are always connected to jobs through technology.
Every day the film classic ‘9 to 5’ is looking more and more like a period piece.
TechCrunch’s piece “10 Office Tools And Workplace Norms That Are Going Extinct” with an endangered species list for the “new work world” habitat. (thanks Geoff). Half are obsolescing technologies, but the other half are victims of surging Dynamic Work…
- Tape recorders (79 percent)
- Fax machines (71 percent)
- The Rolodex (58 percent)
- Standard working hours (57 percent)
- Desk phones (35 percent)
- Desktop computers (34 percent)
- Formal business attire like suits, ties, pantyhose, etc. (27 percent)
- The corner office for managers/executives (21 percent)
- Cubicles (19 percent)
- USB thumb drives (17 percent)
I would add a few more to the list…
- Network cables – Put your money into wireless infrastructure and don’t be put off by the nervous nellies who are convinced that performance and security won’t be adequate.
- Assigned desks – An extension of the ‘corner office’, ‘desk phone’ and ‘desk computer’ items above.
- Briefcases – This one was proposed by Geoff and highlights the shift from the ‘paperwork’ office (that briefcases are designed to carry and protect). This item is the most nostalgic for me as I carried a briefcase for many years of my life. They evoke something more solid, aesthetic, and professional that the black nylon computer sacks of today.
This week’s Boston Globe featured as big piece called “The end of the office… and the future of work” which naturally caught the eye of many of my colleagues and friends (thanks Aidan, Jim, Katie and Mom). Dynamic Work breaks down the 4 basic dimensions of ‘flexibility’ in the workplace to place, time, role and contract. The Globe piece really focuses in on the ‘contract’ dimension. How the relationship between employers and employee is changing to be more flexible…
“The United States Government Accountability Office has estimated that so-called contingent workers – everything from temps to day laborers to the self-employed to independent contractors – make up nearly a third of the workforce. And forecasters believe that proportion will rise. The growth is being driven partly by economic factors, with the uncertain economic climate making short-term contract workers more attractive to firms than full-time employees, but of course broader technological changes are at work as well – cell phones, PDAs, and broadband make it easy to farm out work, even complex, interactive tasks that previously only made sense to do in-house.”
A lot of the messages echo the notions of ‘Portfolio Working’ that my friends Barrie Hopson and Katie Ledger.