For the last 100 years, work has been a place for people to be together at the same time. The cost savings that can be made by bringing people from different backgrounds, with different skills together under one name has been the essence of a ‘corporation’. Employers were paternalistic, proving apprenticeship, full time contracts for life, and generous pension benefits in retirement.
However, the world of work is changing. Where and when work takes place is being challenged by technology and changing social expectations.
During the 1880’s the office was shaped by four key inventions including the typewriter, the telephone, the electric light bulb, and the ‘elevator’. Workers were tethered to their desks in order to use this heavy equipment. Until the early 1990’s nothing changed much. The introduction of the fax accelerated communication and in order to talk to a person you dialled their desk or room. People commuted into the office to connect to colleagues, customers, and corporate systems.
Work as a traditional construct is now under threat; new technology has changed the rules.
Call centres and e-mail have created virtual building addresses, and the use of mobile telephones means that individuals now call direct, not their desk or room. The internet has seen the rise of unified communications where all our messages come into one inbox. Internet telephony means that you no longer need a static handset on the desk, as the use of software and softphones takes over.
Mobile phones have become smart devices with multiple connectivity options. Always on, always contactable, people are able to make decision and give advice wherever they are.
With the changing nature of work, new types of office space will be demanded and created for the knowledge worker in the 21st century. Attracting and retaining talent will require a fundamental rethink of the office spaces we design for work in the digital age.