Been lots of traffic recently on what the workplace will look like over the next few years and even if offices, desks and workspaces will exist. I agree with Ross Dawson’s articulation around the need for common spaces to exist.
I also wonder if the drive towards migration from the office environment is a generational aspiration and / or defined by the stages of our life? I was speaking with my nine-year old son during the last half-term holiday, talking about what we are looking forward to over the next few weeks and months. We talked about the Euros (not the currency but the football tournament), the school trips planned, our holiday and then he mentioned that he is really looking forward to starting Year 5 as he will get his own desk! In the early years his class would sit on floor mats, then upgraded to chairs with a shared desk for each group but now, finally in Year 5 he gets his own desk. There was a sense of arrival, being a senior part of the school – one of the big boys.
Thinking about my own career journey I had been working virtually for nearly 7 years when I joined a new employer. The first minute in the office my boss walked me over to a corner of the office and told me “here is your desk”. Immediately I wondered what I actually did with it! I had been working so long virtually, in various office spaces, hot desking or as a ‘coffice worker’ that I had to remember what it was for. Needless to say after a few weeks the drawers were still empty as I sought to work not at a desk but where the ‘action’ happens within an organisation. I was at a stage of my life where a desk became irrelevant, part of a legacy that I was once held hostage to.
I started working ‘virtually’ when my son was born. I wanted to ensure I spent more time with him rather than catch the odd bath time at the end of the working day. So, having a forward thinking boss, I endeavoured to find ways that enabled me to achieve true work-life balance. Working in a global role helped so I wasn’t confined to the 9-5 routine, but through enabling technology I could complete tasks, innovate, create and add value in an environment I created, without the need of a branded office building. The common spaces were important but these were virtual rather than physical spaces.
Over the last few months I have been interviewing graduates and apprentices (generation X?) as part of some user requirement gathering projects I have been working on. One of the interesting aspects I found from the sessions, other than their flexibility around when they receive and deal with work tasks and the technology used to complete these, was the desire to go to a physical office, or common space. They wanted to meet co-workers, people of the opposite sex, people from diverse backgrounds, not to collaborate on work tasks (they can easily do this with their social technologies) but for their own development as individuals.
It got me thinking is the ‘digital workspace’ primarily for the ‘working parent’ generation that have matured to an extent that work-life balance means the mixture of quality time with family (both young and old) whilst continuing a career. We always talk about social and enabling tools being something generation X demand but in fact do the ‘more mature’ workers that demand these tools to create more fulfilment within their working lives. Generation X may become ‘Generation Desk’ as they enter into the office and look for some traditional symbols that give them the sense of belonging. Will this generation be bragging to friends not about the ability to bring your own device to work but they actually have a floor, a desk, a desktop (ok – maybe not that far) to show they have arrived.