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Workplace Trends: The End of Cubicle Dwelling?

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Many of us have left the world of cubicles behind as our jobs increasingly move into the online realm, where physical presence becomes just an occasional part of our work lives rather than a daily grind of commuting in traffic and cubicle dwelling for 40 hours a week. I see more and more people joining the remote web worker ranks every day, and I’m not the only one seeing this trend. According to Seth Godin in a recent TIME article, “The Last Days of Cubicle Life“:

“Most of the best jobs will be for people who manage customers, who organize fans, who do digital community management. We’ll continue to need brilliant designers, energetic brainstormers and rigorous lab technicians. More and more, though, the need to actually show up at an office that consists of an anonymous hallway and a farm of cubicles or closed doors is just going to fade away. It’s too expensive, and it’s too slow.”

Photo by Ste3ve
Photo by Ste3ve

Godin also points out that this will be a stressful time as many people struggle to find essential, valuable work that is less likely to be outsourced to other locations. This isn’t really a new feature of the work landscape. Peter Drucker was talking about the focus on knowledge workers from the 1950s, and outsourcing has also been a concern for many years.

While outsourcing isn’t new, the rapid increase in the number of remote workers is. According to WorldatWork, “the number of employee telecommuters in the U.S. increased 39 percent, from 12.4 million in 2006 to 17.2 million in 2008.” Businesses are actively seeking to embrace remote working as it lowers overheads — see Simon’s post on GigaOM Pro, “Enabling the Web Working Revolution” (subscription required). Anecdotally, I seem to see more and more people working remotely from home offices and coffee shops.

What does all of this mean for us? As a culture in the U.S., we have moved away from a traditional worker mindset where 9-to-5 office jobs were intended to last for decades and many aspects of our lives were tied up with our employer (pensions, health insurance, etc.). Now we need to embrace a freelancer mindset, with a focus on the work rather than the employer.  This puts many additional burdens on the worker: health care and retirement, for example. Work may last only days, weeks or months, rather than years, and we need to be able to demonstrate our value regardless of whether we are working remotely or in a cubicle. We need to be flexible and ready to embrace new jobs, new work, new technologies and new business models at any time.

I always try to keep an eye on the future by looking for new opportunities and clients. I also make sure that I’m keeping my skills fresh by learning about new technologies and continuing to tweak the services that I offer for clients as the business environment changes.

What do you do to prepare for changes in your work life?

20 Responses to “Workplace Trends: The End of Cubicle Dwelling?”

  1. I catually ended up designating on of the room in my house as my office. Lock it up and the kids won’t bother me. When you think about it, it only saves commuting time, working sometimes take even longer

  2. One shouldn’t overlook the enormous benefits a border-less workforce can have for businesses. We aren’t limited geographically in the talent we have access to. And in a knowledge business, this is an enormous advantage. For us, it has meant never having to compromise or settle when it comes to hiring.

  3. Hi Dawn
    I just rediscovered WebWorkerDaily when someone at voted for your post. I’m so glad I did. This post is terrific because I’m working on a post for our new blog about trends in staffing, the growing use of online scheduling for remote workers, and other topics in this niche. The founder of Shiftboard talks often about the grassroots movement that is empowering the worker and your piece resonates for me. As we get going, I’ll link over to your post, for sure. Thanks again.

  4. I’m part of a festival which is going to investigate these themes by trying to get people out of the cubicle & into public spaces to work. It will be taking place in September in New York City, San Francisco, Paris and (my part) Cornellà, Barcelona.

    Check it out BREAKOUT!

  5. It’s amazing that more people aren’t telecommuting with today’s advanced technology. I think people are afraid to not have face time, or be perceived as a slacker. Video conferencing is the key to eliminating the remaining barriers to telecommuting. By enabling employees and managers to instantly connect face to face, trust is no longer an issue b/c they can actually see each other working and collaborate as if they were in the same room. Video conferencing also has other far reaching business benefits like reduced travel costs and increased productivity because you can always meet face-to-face with anyone no matter where you or they are located. Once video conferencing is more widely adopted, there is no doubt enterprises will embrace teleworking because the business case is just too strong.

  6. @Khürt – Godin isn’t talking about traveling for work. He’s talking about a rise in remote working, which should surely be good for those with families – less commute means more time with the kids, more flexibility to deal with the school run, etc.

  7. Ahh … pundits. I say, get married, have some kids and then tell us how to maintain long term ( 18 or more years ) relationships with spouses and kids when you are always traveling for work.