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Is the office becoming obsolete in the 21st century working world?

20 August 2019
Siobhan Quinn

By Siobhan Quinn, Government Selection Panel Consultant, Eden Ritchie Recruitment

Gone are the days of the traditional 9 to 5, Monday to Friday in the office; with more and more employees demanding flexible working options, businesses have responded by offering work from home opportunities, amongst other initiatives. It begs the question – is the office becoming obsolete?

Often when thinking of flexible work arrangements, the likes of tech giants such as Google come to mind; but it may surprise you to know, several key players such as Yahoo and IBM have reversed their flexible work policies. In 2013 Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banned telecommuting, reasoning that while people can be more productive at home; they are more collaborative and innovative in the office. Collaboration needs a place to happen. When employees work remotely, it becomes more difficult for them to interact and share ideas. While there are some great tools to facilitate remote collaboration, it doesn’t quite replace a face-to-face conversation. Also, being in the same room as colleagues is crucial in developing social connections and building the culture of an organisation. Employees can virtually work together in an effective manner, but it’s definitely harder to build a rapport with someone over email, compared to someone you physically work next to. Working from home can sometimes be lonely, and most remote workers will want to come in and work from an office at least some of the time. This helps the individual to feel connected their peers, and as well to the business.

For those who enjoy the privilege of working from home, there is a level of trust placed in them to do the right thing. Of course, there are a small minority of individuals who will take advantage of the opportunity and not deliver the expected outcomes. But for the vast majority, remote employees are more productive. With many people commuting for over an hour each day, particularly those who work in the CBD; that’s at least 5 hours a week that could be better spent elsewhere. Generally, employees are more willing to put in extra time where required, but especially when they can do so from home. The same goes for sick leave; those who work from home are usually able to accomplish at least some work, in what would otherwise be a lost day. It can also be cheaper for the business to have employees working from home, for example in growing organisations where desk space is at a premium in the office. For managers who worry about reduced visibility over productivity, technology makes it easy to track output, for example programs which monitor screen activity. Many jobs have performance metrics that can show how productive someone is, and this is particularly so for task-based roles with tangible outputs.

In summing up, there are many jobs that can easily be performed remotely or from home. Employees have been shown to be more productive at home rather than in the office, and in many cases, work can be done more efficiently and for a lower cost. Conversely, staff can be more collaborative and innovative in an office environment. Not everyone wants to work from home, many people like the separation of work life and personal life. Working from home also won’t suit every employee or role, and it won’t work for every organisation. So, the office will likely never be obsolete but it’s important to recognise the benefits and changes technology has introduced to the way in which people can, and do, work.





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