I was recently asked to join at roundtable about the future of office working at the offices of The Guardian newspaper. Being a simple soul I was quite confused to be asked if I thought ‘the office was dead’ whilst sitting in an office. It seemed not only alive, but also very present. But maybe the sun is starting to set on that way of working.
You can find the overview here and I’d draw your attention to the face that according to The Guardian I had, after 2 hours, reached a point where I was ‘speaking for the whole meeting’. I’m sure I only spoke for part of it but it may have seemed more to others present.
The conversation was an interesting one because it seems to the curse of the modern world to ask bold questions and get quite fudged answers. Nobody actually thought that there was no role for offices any more – but people did think that more fluidity in the way we work and where we work would be beneficial (for some workers, where possible, given proper recourse to security concerns, insert more caveats if possible…). During a break I got to speak to Charlie Green who is the CEO of The Office Group. The Office Group provide flexible offices – well designed spaces where a freelancer like me, I can go and work in a nice environment and be with people.
I liked Charlie for 4 reasons
- He had an excellent beard
- As I also have a beard people mixed us up and kept attributing his smart observations to me
- He made lots of smart observations
- When I said he had an interesting product he just said ‘I’ll give you a free try’. And whilst I never expected to hear from him again, sure enough, later that week someone got in touch from The Office Group to say ‘let’s get you set up’.
The impression that I got of Charlie’s view was that flexible workspaces are the future and should be part of planning for city and town planning. He painted a vision of a future where home working was just an option (rather than the obvious norm), but where people would often choose to just want to be around others and connect to them in their local community. A future where flexibility doesn’t mean solitude.
Charlie’s vision made more sense to me in terms of appealing to a mass of people than the potential isolation of homeworking (even allowing for better technological innovation in that space). There is something about sitting down and eating with someone – or sharing a coffee – that no video solution will ever quite match. I need that sense of community and it is why on a quiet day I tend to head to RSA House to work rather than sit alone in the office at home.
The thought of my town having a coworking space and that being a trigger for more integrated and joined up communities is an intriguing and attractive one. The usefulness to small business people of being able to draw through a connected community would also be beneficial. It would also be nice, for instance, for me to work alongside the parents of children in my daughter’s school class.
the future of office working
Of course this is a middle class future – this is the future for the commuter in the nice shirt or blouse who will be able to avoid the unpleasant train journey. It doesn’t work for the panel beater in Solihull (Simon Heath’s obsession), it doesn’t work for those who have bosses who don’t trust them and it won’t work for the increasing number of people who will have their roles automated. And that is the tricky thing about the future – the excitement of the new world of work is perhaps overshadowing the reality of the future world of employment.
The people writing about work are doing the very types of job that allow them (and me) to embrace new ways of working.
The people getting on with making real things and providing concrete services (often on lower incomes) – well, the world is a trickier beast for them.