Is the office becoming irrelevant?

Nov 29 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

A growing number of Americans are using their offices just as places to touch down for meetings or catch up with colleagues, with their real work being done remotely, from home, on the road or simply wherever they can set up their lap-top or Blackberry.

A poll by remote services firm Citrix Online has found more Americans are performing at least part of their job from virtually anywhere at any hour of the day, thanks to online and wireless technology.

It argued the "telecommuters" of the 1980s and 1990s should more appropriately today be called "web commuters" because of their growing reliance on the internet.

Its research comes as a poll of more than a 1,000 British workers by think-tank The Work Foundation and Microsoft has concluded that just a tenth of workers find their workplace a creative environment in which to work, with a third labelling it as uninspiring.

The Citrix research found that nearly a quarter of American workers, and four out of 10 small business owners, regularly worked from home or another offsite location.

Such workers predominantly relied on web technology, such as the internet, e-mail or technology that allowed them remotely to access their office computers or meet colleagues online.

And of those who did not have the ability to do their jobs off site, nearly two thirds said they would like to be able to do so.

Being able to work remotely or away from the office at least some of the time was now near the top of the list of the "extra" benefits desired by employees, and was even rated ahead of the stock options and on-site child care.

American workers aged 18-34 were most excited about working remotely, with seven out of 10 agreeing it would be a welcome opportunity.

"Web commuters are a substantial portion of our customer base," said Bernardo de Albergaria, vice-president and general manager eCommerce for Citrix Online.

"Services like web-based remote access, collaboration and support are enabling more and more people to work from anywhere," he added.

The Work Foundation/Microsoft poll echoed these findings, concluding that more than quarter quarters of the workers polled believed working out of the office was the future for the workplace.

More than half said they would be happier if there was a greater element of mobile working in their jobs.

And 16 per cent said they would actually leave their jobs within six months if their boss wasn't open to flexible working.

Microsoft has coined the acronym "Moofer" (Mobile Out of Office) for this new breed of worker, which sees the office as just one location that's key to their job rather than the only location.

Moofers, it said, understand that work is something you do not somewhere you go, they work smarter not harder and have a better work-life balance. The office is used simply to build and maintain relationships.

"We need to redefine the term 'office work,'" said James McCarthy, mobile working expert at Microsoft and the creator of mobile working website

"Far too many of us endure a daily commute, only to sit at our desks and work on jobs that we could do from anywhere with an internet connection. So when in the office, I urge office workers to consider leaving their desks and taking the opportunity to go and interact with their colleagues instead," he argued.

Office workers needed to prioritise their working day and use office time for face-to-face meetings and other interpersonal activities saving the reports, presentations and other more cerebral stuff for a location better suited to total concentration.

"Office 'noise' is often seen as a distraction, when it's actually a good barometer for the creativity and energy of an office. For tasks that require total concentration arguably the worst place to be is at your desk. We should be using our office time to make the most of the relationships we have with colleagues," said McCarthy.

"Work is increasingly about the quality of outputs not just the quantity of inputs, such as time spent at your desk," agreed Nick Isles, director of advocacy at The Work Foundation.

"Giving office-based workers more control over when, where and how they produce good work means being ultra flexible not begrudgingly flexible.

"This is not to say that time spent in the office is unimportant. It is. But that should be only some of the time, not all of the time, if organisations want the best from their workforce," he added.