It’s the end of the office as we now know it

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IT is a vision of a future workforce staffed by digital natives, people thoroughly at ease with technology who will operate in ‘virtual’ offices throughout the country.

And it is a development which would see the traditional office routine, which has been the cornerstone of British business for decades, consigned to the past.

As technology continues to advance, a business expert is predicting that the UK’s office property sector, worth about £2bn a year to the economy, will fundamentally change in the next 20 years.

With the growth of cloud-based services and mobile devices, people no longer need a permanent desk, and will increasingly work from home or utilise pay as you go alternatives, said unified communications expert Tim Meredith, from Daisy Group.

“The business world has become extremely fast-paced, and organisations need to be able to react quickly to survive.

“Office space, on the other hand, requires long-term financial commitment and maximum occupancy, otherwise it becomes a huge financial drain.

“The nine to five shift is dying as more businesses allow their employees to work flexibly, which means workers no longer need to be desk bound, and there is less need for fixed office space.

“The number of UK home workers has increased by 45 per cent since the start of the millennium, and I anticipate this trend to continue. By 2035, businesses will be following the lead of freelancers and start-ups by renting fully equipped office space or portable workstations as and when they need them.”

He said the mass availability of affordable tools, like video conferencing software, internal social networks and intranets, allow businesses to create virtual teams around the country, that can collaborate.

The roll-out of superfast broadband and 4G connectivity across the UK is also helping facilitate the move away from the office.

And with more than four million people in the UK working from home, technical ‘mobile device management’ solutions have been developed to allow organisations to monitor their remote workers’ activity.

Daisy Group provides unified communications and IT services to business customers, across a product portfolio including data, mobile, systems and maintenance.

Mr Meredith said: “Eliminating fixed office space means businesses can become more agile and, most importantly, save thousands of pounds which can be reinvested for their staff and customers.

“The next generation of workers are digital natives and at ease using the technologies available, so it really is a no brainer to let them work remotely.”

But Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “Many a report has predicted the death of the office before, but in an economy increasingly built on knowledge and creativity, the social interaction that is generated by ‘coming into work’ remains vital for many businesses.

“Intriguingly, we find the technology sector is often at the forefront of demand for new office space.

“Of course, offices must adapt, changing to provide plenty of space to socialise, network, share thinking and accommodate more flexible approaches to people’s working time and leisure.”

One organisation that is already working without a fixed office is Nozbe, a fast growing app development company.

The firm encourages its 18 employees to collaborate by sharing files via Dropbox, communicate via instant messaging service Slack, and use Skype when they require face to face interaction.