How the office is evolving

office

The traditional office space is in the midst of its most dramatic shift since it was rocked by the creation of the cubicle more than 40 years ago. Driven by new communication technologies, the globalization of supply chains and an increased emphasis on real estate cost reduction, we’ve seen a massive change in the way people work. The “New Office” is an airport lounge on a tablet, a midnight video call on the kitchen counter, a shared table at the office or a collaboration pod for ad hoc meetings. These new workspaces create fresh
challenges for IT departments and technological demands from today’s workforce – from new productivity tools to broader communication and collaboration solutions.

In the last 10 years, we’ve seen a significant reduction in the average office space per employee. In 1995, it was approximately 300 square feet; today it is 225 square feet or less. This workspace shrinkage is due to various work style trends, including companies leveraging hot desking, where an employee temporarily occupies a workspace outfitted to meet their needs, hotelling,reservation-based hot desking, and incentive programs for employees who work from home.

These space-focused work trends create new pain points for employees, ranging from a need for tools that increase privacy (such as headsets, individual phone booths, etc.) to self-sufficiency and collaboration solutions. As a result, the IT industry is now focused on implementing radically simple and easy-to-use solutions, requiring no IT support, so employees can focus on communicating and collaborating. I was particularly intrigued by Tim Campos’ decision at Facebook to use vending machines to dispense items like keyboards, headphones and power sources to employees – part of what he calls “frictionless IT.”

Piggybacking the evolving office space is the gradual increase of space allocated to team collaboration — currently, it’s close to 30 percent of the average office space. It used to be that meetings were relegated
to a few dedicated rooms and water cooler discussions literally happened around the water cooler. Today, the physical space is adapting to the way teams work – ad hoc, on a project basis, cross-functional, with team members scattered around the world. We’re witnessing a fragmentation of collaboration spaces. Now there
are larger amounts of smaller spaces for employees – rooms that typically hold about four people – equipped with video conferencing systems that are smaller, cheaper, self-installed and easy-to-use.

Driven by the need to replace more antiquated pieces of IT equipment and the availability/growth of unified communications (UC) solutions, we’re seeing a union of computing and communication tools at the desk and in new collaboration spaces. UC simplifies how employees work together, regardless of whether or
not they’re in the office. However, questions are rising around what device will become the catch-all communication and productivity solution: the PC, a tablet dock, a UC phone or perhaps a smartphone.

This is certainly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to next-generation collaboration products and the evolution of the new office. Video conferencing addresses the need for structured meetings, but new tools will emerge to address the need for unstructured collaboration – from interactive connected smart boards to tablet whiteboard applications.

My guess: this is just the beginning. The personal space will continue to shrink and become increasingly mobile/virtual. We’ll likely see a day where the office becomes a series of collaboration spaces, designed to connect fragmented virtual teams. Until then, we’ll continue to witness the development of new
technologies and services designed to address the changing office. New players and industry stalwarts alike will start to develop products and solutions that make the new office a reality.

Eric Kintz is Vice President and General Manager of Logitech for Business, Logitech’s newly-created division focused on business productivity and unified communications solutions. Follow him on Twitter: @EricKintz.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Campaign Monitor

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