Longer Hours, Less Freedom? Why Workplace 2020 Might Leave You Hankering After the Office
The fixed hours, the air-con, even the quality of the coffee: we spend a lot of time complaining about the office. But by 2020, you may well be hankering for the office life of old. Yes, even the traffic-ridden commute home.
Apparently, the days of the 9-5 are numbered. ThatΓÇÖs according to a recent survey by the Chartered Management Institute, which found that 59% of managers expect that the traditional 9-5 will have disappeared by 2020.
No office? No office hours
Of course, itΓÇÖs no surprise to most of us that the way we work ΓÇô when, where and how ΓÇô is changing considerably.
The rise of flexible working ΓÇô and remote working in particular ΓÇô is facilitating a shift away from the traditional, physical office space. (Although as we pointed out earlier this month, offering certain forms of flexible working such as homeworking can come with significant challenges for employers.)
Meanwhile, an increasingly globalised workforce will mean working late to speak with colleagues in the States, and getting up early to talk with clients in India. ItΓÇÖs easy to see how that 9-5 could expand to become 5-9. Modern working practices like remote working make this even easier, by enabling workers to clock in and out from their own homes. No commute needed.
This ties in with another finding from the CMIΓÇÖs survey; 54% of bosses expect ΓÇ£the boundaries between home and work life to become entirely blurredΓÇ¥ by 2020. Reduced emphasis on physical office space is likely to play an important part in this blurring of boundaries, because never going to the office means you never get to leave, either.
So ignore those ΓÇ£Death of the OfficeΓÇ¥ stories. Rather than ceasing to exist, the office will be everywhere ΓÇô or at least everywhere you have a mobile device and a Wi-Fi connection. The question is: to what extent will gaining freedom from the physical office mean releasing the office into your own home? And is this what we really want?
Flexible working -┬áthe end of freedom?
Those who think remote working will mean more freedom may need to think again, as the CMIΓÇÖs survey also revealed that 57% of bosses believe that ΓÇ£much closerΓÇ¥ employee monitoring will also be a key feature of work by 2020.
In other words, managers who are no longer able to see their workers busily typing away at their desks will resort to a wide range of monitoring tools ΓÇô and metrics ΓÇô to assess employee productivity.
While closer monitoring isnΓÇÖt likely to go down well with most employees (55% of the bosses surveyed by CMI believe their workforce will ΓÇ£fearΓÇ¥ it), there are positives to be found in this new approach. Smart use of monitoring, using the right metrics, will allow workers to be assessed in terms of the results they achieve, rather than the number of hours they are physically present in the workplace.
Of course, this approach is reliant on the tools and metrics employers choose. Not all monitoring is quite so helpful from an employeeΓÇÖs point of view.
Scientists have already invented a device which can be used to monitor the wearer’s concentration levels, assessing whether they are overworked or underworked and adjusting the workload accordingly. Eventually, they hope to be able to integrate it into wearable tech such as Google Glass.
It has interesting implications both for creative thinking (which tends to be associated with a more relaxed state of mind) and for those who do their job with relative ease.
With monitoring devices like these, workers hoping for a way to escape the rigid routine of the office may simply be inviting it ΓÇô under the guise of a surveillance system ΓÇô into their own homes.
Co-working: reinforcing the importance of the physical office
But are we really so keen to be rid of the traditional office? Numerous studies say we are, describing flexible working and particularly the freedom to work from home as one of the most sought-after ΓÇ£perksΓÇ¥ among office workers.
But we only have to look at the rising popularity of co-working to see something, well, a little different.
Legions of freelancers and entrepreneurs have already figured out that working from home just doesnΓÇÖt work for them. In co-working, theyΓÇÖve found a physical space which allows them to shut out the world of work at the end of the day. They recognise that the office serves an important function; not least as a compartment for our work-related thoughts.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of larger companies like Accenture and Vodafone are offering ΓÇ£hotellingΓÇ¥ options or hot-desking passes to enable employees to choose where they work ΓÇô so that they donΓÇÖt have to work from home.
This chimes with the findings of a 2011 survey by Unwired Consultancy on behalf of Regus which found that while 12% of office workers say they would like to work from home, only 1.4% actually take up the option when itΓÇÖs on offer. Secretly, we like the office after all ΓÇô or at least more than the alternatives.
Workers are becoming ever more astute at understanding what they want from their working environment and more proactive in pursuing it. For many, that still means some form of office space away from home. Will this still be the case in 2020? If longer office hours and a complete erosion of the work-life boundary are the alternative, then the physical office may find more champions than ever before.
What do you think? Are the days of the traditional office numbered ΓÇô or would you gladly say goodbye to your office for good?