Opinions vary on what role the office should play today in modern business. Many vendors evangelise about how "work should be something we do, not somewhere we go". Others claim the office will serve as more of a common meeting place for creativity and collaboration than a place where people sit at desks and bash out emails. They make fair points; you should now be able to work from anywhere and travelling to send an email no longer makes sense. What I contest, however, is the apparent consensus that office working is no longer as productive or cost effective as mobile or remote working. This is an extremely short-sighted view.
As communications become increasingly intelligent, employees can benefit from viewing work as a destination. Far from being sentimental and old fashioned, I believe office environments are on the cusp of providing a richer, more fruitful technology experience than we get remotely. We are set to become even more productive and collaborative in the office.
Just as technology was an enabler of remote and mobile working, new waves of innovation are set to revolutionise the way we think about, and make use of, office space. According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the popularity of remote working and changes in employee working patterns are already influencing what businesses consider ideal office space - an open plan with less physical space required. Over the next few years, emerging concepts like the ‘internet of things', ‘consumerisation of IT' and ‘machine to machine communications' will catalyse further changes and possibilities.
While these terms are still largely industry buzz words, in the near future, they will become vital to the future of business. Technology and networks that are self-aware will become increasingly prevalent as the cost of the sensor technology which enables this reaches an all-time low. In fact, Gartner predicts that we'll soon reach the point where it's cheaper to have a communications-enabled system than not. This will lead to a fundamental change in the way companies work - from new ways of developing technology, to better facilities management.
The impact of this on our daily places of work could be profound. Imagine a workspace that's aware of you as an individual - whether you're an employee, partner, customer or supplier. Imagine an office that recognises who is entering the building, what physical access they require, what devices they have with them, and what information they might need. What's more, this office knows your preferences for light, temperature and room type. It will alert you when someone who might be useful to a project you're working on enters the building; and even automatically set up a meeting with that person. This is the world of smart buildings.
[Turn to next page]