The office is dead, long live the office!

Guest blog: Aku Varamäki, Workday Designers

I did my bachelor's thesis in the early 2000s on remote work. My project partner and I were reading Pekka Himanen's visions for the future and were collecting our data from Nokia, of course, as it was probably the only company in Finland where working remote was at all possible. In the future – that is, sometime in the distant 2020s – this would be normal, and work would no longer be tied to a specific location. We would mainly work at our summer cottages.

Of course, work did become disconnected from a specific location during the 21st century and we can safely say that we are firmly in a future where cars do not fly yet, but work really can be done at the airport, for instance, which is precisely where I am writing this text now. But did the office die? No! In the same way that the internet did not kill the radio or newspapers, being able to do telework did not kill the office.

In a way, it was the other way around: while many tasks can be done anywhere, face-to-face meetings have become much more important. Offices are still the very places where we go not only to concentrate on work, but to do teamwork and see people.

Office rat spends at least an hour each day at meetings

There are plenty of these meetings of the world of work. According to Martela, over 60 per cent of knowledge workers spend at least an hour each workday in meetings. For every fifth worker, meetings take up more than three hours of their day. What is significant, however, is that the nature of these meetings has changed: more frequently, they are internal and rapid status-checks that are not necessarily scheduled very far in advance. (This can all be found in the Martela Insights data that contains evaluations by more than 7,000 office workers in Finland, Sweden and Norway of their work premises before the implementation of workplace changes.  Super interesting!)

Rapid exchanges of ideas are important to ensure the smooth running of work, but they have also become a new distraction. As workday designers, our clients regularly tell us that they would rather stay at home to do the work that requires concentration. Martela's data reveals the same phenomenon: unfortunately, workplaces do not offer the peace and quiet needed for work.

The reason for this is the transformation of the way we work: spontaneous internal meetings between two people have partially replaced the endless meetings of the past. Nowadays, due to the lack of suitable quiet spaces, discussions are often held close to workstations. Traditional conference rooms do not meet this new need, as they are often located far from workstations and need to be booked separately. In fact, our conference rooms have changed surprisingly little in relation to how much work has changed. You might also ask why we always book an hour-long slot for meetings when 15 minutes would be enough. (And sometimes we need to set aside an entire day, but that's another story.)

I am very interested in Martela's solution: PodBooth Meeting is a four-person meeting booth where you can withdraw for a quick meeting (or to Skype) with a colleague. It is designed to be located close to workstations, so it is easy to use and means you can avoid disturbing your colleagues.

While the office is still very much alive, it also needs to change to meet the needs of work. It will be interesting to see if these meeting booths are here to stay in our offices.

Aku Varamäki

Aku Varamäki is an advocate for a better working life, and with her business, Workday Designers, helps organisations design meaningful and impactful workdays.