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The End of the Office?

Work is changing. The water cooler has been replaced by instant messaging. Many of us spend less time in a boardroom than we do on Skype. Can it be that the office, the actual physical office with its cubicles and paperwork and human-to-human meetings, will soon be a thing of the past?

Telecommuting jobs have increased 400 percent in the past three years. This is partly because companies want to save money on office space, and partly because employees like to work at home. It’s a cheap, popular perk to offer in a time when raises are thin on the ground and 75 percent of departing employees say they wouldn’t recommend their former employers to job seekers. So will working at home be the office of the future?

Why It Could Happen:

1) Ask anyone who’s had to beg for office supplies from a reluctant office manager with the key to the supply closet: Money is pretty much the only thing that matters to many companies. That’s probably true all the time, but it’s especially true in a recession. If allowing employees to work at home will save money, that’s what companies will do.

2) And speaking of things that cost money, few things cost more than replacing workers. Happy workers = no labor replacement costs = happy companies. More and more employees are asking to work at home, and as we said earlier, letting someone work from their couch is cheaper than coughing up a raise.

3) Many folks who work at home are more productive than people in the office. Some of it is simple psychology: Sitting in an office makes workers more inclined to clock watch, while employees who work at home feel pressure to produce results in order to justify the perk.

Why It Might Not Happen:

1) Sure, some people who work at home are more productive, but we’ve all also worked with that person who is “working” at home, but is totally unavailable by IM, phone, or passenger pigeon. There will probably always be some workers who do better with actual supervision.

2) Not every job is suitable for a work-at-home arrangement. Sure, this article mentions a neurosurgeon who is able to review digital imagery from home, but we can’t figure out how a nurse or a dentist would manage to Skype in their work.

3) Some workers just plain old don’t like working at home. You probably know these folks, too: They’re the ones who blow up your IM all day long when they’re at home, asking about sports scores and weather reports and, if worse comes to worse, work. Extreme extroverts, for example, are probably more comfy in the social environment of the office.


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