Office of the Future, Heaven or Hell

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“Tomorrow’s workplace of the future will be flexible and productive. It will harness the intelligence, commitment and energy of its workers hopefully allowing staff to enjoy a better balance between work and home life. The workplace of the future should also equitably reward all those who contribute to its success and technology will be used to ensure improved delivery of good and services from businesses and quality from our public services,” reported a recent promotional leaflet for a conference on the “Office of the Future.”

However, the nifty noughties are over and the boom time has definitely ended, so to many the above may seem far too Panglossian and, to be honest, these readers are right. For every labor-saving device invented, companies may well consider them exactly that and cut their workforce accordingly.

Another problem is the office of the future, with all its leading-edge connectivity, piping broadband to organizations halfway around the world, streaming conference calls, and the like, is in danger of becoming the kitchen of the future, the living room of the future and, even worse, the beach of the future.  Unfortunately the problem is, as business writer Woody Leonhard put it in the “Underground Guide to Telecommuting” a decade and a half ago, “Work is becoming something you do, not a place you go to.” The office can reach you all the time – apart from when you are sleeping, and even then – if you don’t switch off your devices?.

And it’s not that much better in leisured, centered Europe where the “good life” has almost given up the ghost because the world is now so connected. Here, in Belgium, you still see locals religiously observing a decent lunch hour, or two, on a nice sunny day, but then returning to the office and not leaving until nine o’clock at night. In the past decade, the Spanish have tragically killed off the traditional siesta, a time in the heat for love and food, like an expert matador. It seems we all pretty much look and dress the same and now we work the same too. To confirm these trends a report by business development agency Scottish Enterprise claimed that 80 percent of UK workers are now ‘information workers’ – people who work with a networked PC and phone as their main tools. While European law may be more family friendly than North American, the UK now gives all workers with children under six years old the right to ask to work flexibly, businesses in turn are expecting greater results. It sadly seems that line managers distrust their non-office workers and expect prompter responses than from colleagues two desks away. As a report from the Dublin-based European Foundation for Living and Working Conditions noted, “When their remote employees do not immediately answer their home or mobile phones, managers show some lapse of faith. Nearly a quarter think their employees are running household errands or shuttling the kids around, and 9% believe they are being deliberately ignored.”

” So as a tired and rather terse Glaswegian might observe, “The future’s not bright, it’s sh*te.”