Often, when people think of the workplace of the future, they think of no workplace at all. There’s a widely held belief that in years to come, companies will no longer operate out of physical buildings but rather exist in a completely virtual space, where employees collaborate solely over high-speed networks from their different locations and sales comprise e-commerce in various guises.
But I don’t agree with that. I don’t think human nature – our desire to see other people, interact with them and physically exchange ideas – will ever see workforces relegated to virtual, cloud-based companies with no personal connection.
In fact, our increasingly high-tech environment will drive a need for even greater human involvement in every aspect of our lives, including business.
However, at the same time, I don’t believe the workplace as we know it today will continue to exist. The evolution of the traditional office has already started, and although brick and mortar workspaces will still have a role to play, the office of the future will look very different from what it does today.
For a start, I think outsourced office solutions will replace the traditional workplace model. These solutions merge the brick and mortar structures of the past with the technologies of the future, to offer a sophisticated, efficient workplace that is flexible and highly cost-effective.
These solutions include fully serviced offices, collaborative work spaces, hot desk services and even virtual offices. Now we’re not talking millennial hipster hangouts where there’s more focus on the fair trade coffee than on the work to be done.
No, these are fully equipped, professional workspaces that offer corporates, entrepreneurs, SMMEs and expanding national and multinational firms needing instant office space, excellent returns on their investment without the costly regular office overheads.
The prevailing trends driving these outsourced solutions include spiralling corporate real estate costs; ongoing pressure to reduce corporate carbon footprints; the need for greater flexibility as companies strive to improve the work/life balance among employees; and the need for increased mobility as a result of growing globalisation.
A recent report from US software giant Citrix supports this. It forecast that by 2017, around 50% of businesses would have a mobile working policy, and by 2020, 70% of people would work away from the office as often as they worked at a desk.
In fact, Citrix vice president, Jacqueline de Rojas, predicted “offices will become places of collaboration and connection, because culturally we need touch points as we are social animals”.
On a global level, companies have seen the value of the outsourced office model for some time. In South Africa, companies are beginning to empower their staff by giving them the freedom to work wherever they want because they realise the associated benefits of increased productivity and job satisfaction.
South Africa has a largely untapped workforce, and the fully serviced and virtual office solutions break the barriers to entry for potential contributors to the economy like stay-at-home moms, young business people, the elderly and remotely located.
Big corporates and start-ups also benefit from the reduced risk and the opportunity to earn valuable enterprise development points.
There’s no doubt the office space as we know it is undergoing a transformation, but that doesn’t mean the heart of the conventional office is changing along with it. As long as there are warm bodies, not robots, doing the work, so there will be a need for vibrant, collaborative workspaces that allow employees to connect and engage with each other.
Outsourced office solutions offer just that.
Welcome to the office of the future.
By Brad Porter