Office: We’ve excerpted this essay from our recently released Timeline of Next report, which explores the remarkable opportunities ahead. Diverse thought leaders from Cognizant and beyond take a look at the future of families, work, economic structures, and life itself as we approach the “new normal” and consider what may happen next.
During COVID-19, participants were able to conduct mental work at any location – typing, coding, accounting, etc. This has been obvious to the “future of” folks for years, many of whom have worked in their homes for decades (e.g. you and I).
Habit, inertia, conservatism, and presenteeism have kept most workers trapped in their cubicles. However, now that the penny has dropped, employers and employees are realizing en masse that much white-collar work can be done anywhere, and not all of it requires sitting in an office an hour away.
Nevertheless, our current COVID-19 interregnum has shown that “hand-to-hand work” remains better-done face-to-face. While we all deal with endless video calls and the explosion of email and instant messaging, there is still no replacement for being “in the room” when we want to create, collaborate, and close.
Given these facts, the question arises – assuming that the vaccines are effective against the continuous variants and we can leave our homes once again one day (inshallah): what is the purpose of an office, and what is expected of it. When will we be there? It all depends on how the vaccines work and how long it takes for the virus to mutate (and mutate more, so we are tied down for good….)
Not just a place to work
Perhaps even as early as 2022, an office will serve three purposes: a showroom, an R&D lab, and a party room. Our showroom will be the place for clients, prospects, media, and analysts to see that we are beaches.” The R&D lab will be the place where the real magic is cooked: Imagine Apple’s famous Design Lab, including watches, phones, and brain implants designed by Sir Jony I’ve.
It will be a place where the party is: monthly local social/collaborative celebrations (instead of the annual global/regional ones that large multinationals traditionally celebrate) to develop a “culture”, the network, and the bond.
There are some organizations that can (or want to) afford to have all three functions in one office space, such as Hudson Yards or Canary Wharf. For others, (the majority) they will be exhibited in several different venues – a single (chic) floor of a Mayfair townhouse, a bare-floored brick building in Shoreditch, and the Porter Tun at the brewery.
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We envision an office that sub-optimizes these three functions into a single “composite” space: a small meeting room for clients/prospects, and a dilapidated old couch nearby the coin-operated beverage dispenser. The open floor plan for R&D and a DJ stuck in a corner for the knees (90 percent of today’s office space worldwide) will become a relic of the past. Weakly suited to the purpose of our brave new job.
The office is not dead, nor is the city, but the commute to a cubicle will follow the path of the Dodo for the next 24 months, and only dodos and dodo companies will persist with that model.
A new office, started by WeWork before it exploded out of greed and greed, will be an ideal place for the direct work that needs to be done. However, it is not the right place to do the head-down work you don’t do.