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Goodbye to the office!?!?

July 8, 2010

Fear, disbelief, and concern were my initial reactions to “Goodbye to the office”.  Seth had forsaken me, and only three days after I attended the first ever Lynchpin meeting in Waterloo.  Let me start by explaining exactly what I do.

I am an office real estate agent.  I specialize in working with Waterloo Region office users requiring over 5,000 square feet.  As with most of the top professionals in my business, I don’t dabble in anything else; I don’t lease industrial buildings, I don’t know anything about big box retail and I probably couldn’t sell your house even if you wanted me to.  So, considering that “office is dead”, we have defined what I do for a living and surmised that my prospects for switching horses is remote, I think my response to Seth’s post was appropriate.

In the context of his seven points, Seth is bang on.  But his seven points do not articulate a modern definition of a place where people meet with a common interest to accomplish tasks and ultimately ship.  If I make a seven point list of why we originally inhabited sites that later became cities and then apply that list to New York City, would the seven points still be relevant?  Of course not, a fresh supply of water and an offshore wind to keep the smell of the horse manure to a minimum are unimportant today.  And yet, New York City remains.

Without question, the modern office is changing and changing fast.  This is not news to those of us that work in the industry.  “Hoteling”, home offices, “hot spots”, remote offices, “officing”, teleconference rooms, are all relatively new forms of working remotely which point to the demise of the office.   In addition, the enormous power of the Internet has proven that people without offices can organize, cooperate, collaborate, transact, influence and ship on a grand scale, but this idea is not new.  Avon proved you could mobilize thousands of non-office based employees to produce results long before the Internet.

The fascinating thing is that the most significant changes we have witnessed in office real estate over the past ten years were driven by high-tech firms that are largely responsible for the “new” work environment.  The industry that embraces the work culture described by Seth is also passionate about their office space.  The high-tech industry has turned the office environment upside down with modern design, people space, green space, open concept, reinvesting in “brick and beam” buildings, amenities, green initiatives, and the list goes on and on.  Also, it is this example that basically dispels Seth’s proclamation that “office is dead”.  The office continues to change, but the defining feature of people congregating in a common place on a regular basis to produce a result will remain because it works.

In order for the office to truly disappear, it must become obsolete.   What the tech industry is quick to point out, however, is that it works like no other medium.  People in close proximity to other people produce a result that technology has yet to duplicate.  It is hard to impress this upon anybody other than designers and architects that live in a world of “space”, but the best example is the artist that accepts an Oscar “via satellite”.  Is it effective? Do we get to hear and see them?  Aren’t we watching them on TV anyway?   Then why is it such a disappointment?

Thanks Seth for “lobbing the firebomb over the wall”.  I enjoyed grappling with this one.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2010 11:38 am

    No doubt, changes to the corporate office environment continue, as you outlined in your post. However, for all the articles written about the future death of the office, mostly predicted as the result of technology. I would remind people that the United States steadily continues its transition from a manufacturing based economy to a service based economy and service companies use office space. How we use our office space will continue to evolve, but the decline of corporate office space is not on the horizon anytime soon in my opinion.

  2. Tom permalink
    July 8, 2010 5:45 pm

    I agree with you, the office isn’t entirely ‘dead’, I think people do need human/team interaction at work and the separation of work from home. On the other hand, I think being at the office for 40+ hours a week might one day be replaced with ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ROWE). Either way, if large office sales go down, it only means that the sales of office sheds (shedworking.co.uk) will go up. I know I want one 🙂

    • July 9, 2010 10:14 am

      I think you are correct on both accounts and what I would add is corporations have an opportunity to create an environment that an individual cannot. The leading companies will use this opportunity to create offices that make you want to come to work. A tall order for sure, but not impossible.

      That being said, I want an office shed too!

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