Why Are We Still Working in Offices?

Rethinking Communications

Why Are We Still Working in Offices?

By Jon Arnold, Principal, J Arnold & Associates  |  August 10, 2016

Going back a few posts – to my Why Are We Still Using Desk Phones? piece – I viewed this as a one-off premise, but it’s since taken a life of its own. A good question always begets more questions, and why is one of the best ones to ask. Of course, it’s totally aligned with the spirit of this column, as there’s no end of things to rethink that we’ve been stubbornly clinging to in the world of work, especially around communications technologies.

Starting with that initial post, I have gone on to ask why about other entrenched ways of doing things, and as these topics start to amass collective weight, more questions arise. The perspective for asking these questions starts from the inside, with the network being the core of the workplace universe. As one steps further away to the edge and into the world of end users, new forces emerge leading to bigger questions that go beyond telephony. Communications touches everything, and as the way we communicate evolves, so does the world connected to it.

Until millennials are completely in charge – both as end users and decision makers for technology – there will be good reason to keep asking why. The installed base, so to speak, is largely from the analog world, with digital not far behind, and this contingent does not adapt to change as easily – or willingly – as millennials. This generation gap is a topic unto itself, but for millennials all the questions I’m posing in these posts are perfectly logical. Conversely, for the older generation, these types of questions challenge the status quo, and the drivers for change aren’t always seen as being for the better.

The Value of Asking What If and Why

If you’ve never used a landline at home, how would you understand the concept of a shared phone for a family? If you’ve been using the internet your entire life, why do we need books or paper-based documents? If you’ve always been mobile-first, why would bother with a desk phone at work? When you hear these types of questions being asked by employees, you need to pay attention, because when the world is viewed through the lens of the internet generation everything is fair game to question. With the Web, the cloud, mobile broadband, etc., nothing is immune from being re-invented for the digital economy.

This may seem like a radical end game, but for those who embrace it – namely millennials – this is the new order around which everything will eventually conform. As such, when the questioning starts with telephony, other things soon follow, and before long, the focus shifts from things – desk phones, PCs, mobile devices, etc. – to processes and then to the workplace environment. I have written previously about the merits of remote working, and when you start down this path, fundamental implications arise around finding the best ways for employees to be productive.

One such implication is the notion is that work is becoming defined more by what we do rather than the place where work gets done. Since we have moved almost entirely from a production-based economy to one based on information and services, there is less reason to be in a space where goods are produced. Taking things a step further, with today’s hyper-connectivity, the natural borders of time and space are less real when it comes to communicating with others.

How UC Supports Employees Outside the Office

In that context, remote working is a natural development, and is increasingly being welcomed by both employer and employees. For the former, it’s a great way to scale back occupancy costs, as well as giving the company access to a broader talent pool. Remote working also reduces time lost due to commuting, or any variety of factors that keep employees from getting to the office.

Conversely, remote working helps employees balance their ongoing work/life demands, and allows millennials more control over how they participate in the gig economy that is so highly valued. For businesses concerned with keeping their best people as well as attracting top talent, this flexibility is a key indicator of the workplace culture millennials are looking for.

These realities may seem far removed from questions about your phone system, but they’re highly related as communications technology plays a vital role for making remote working an effective business strategy. Unified communications provides the platform needed to connect everyone in a consistent manner regardless of location, endpoint, or network environment.

This capability didn’t exist until recently, and with that, larger scale plans for remote working become viable. Perhaps not enough to replace the office altogether, but a fair balance can now be struck to accommodate those who prefer remote working along with the others who simply feel better grounded being onsite and around their co-workers. You might want to think about that before signing your next long-term office lease.

Jon Arnold (News - Alert) is principal at J Arnold & Associates (ww.jarnoldassociates.com).

Edited by Alicia Young