Why are we so obsessed by physical office space and the paraphenalia that goes with it?
Walk into any office and it is quickly apparent that the space is actually a series of fiefdoms, represented by small, but personal flags of ownership.
What’s that all about?
It reminds me of the animal behaviour of scenting. You know, when they mark their territory out so that other animals don’t stray into their space. This office detritus is made up of photos, random files and books that no one reads, pedestals full of old tickets, rubber bands and paper clips.
Worse still, even in offices where there is an attempt by the management to get people working more flexibly by creating hot desks and virtual desktop environments, the behaviour remains. Come on, you must have seen the post it notes casually stuck on some screens that say ‘this is not a hot desk, please do not use’? Why not? What’s going to happen if you do?
Even in entrepreneur world, there is an obsession with getting office space. More concerning is that this is one of the first things on the list that many start up businesses consider – before having made any money! Their reason for outlaying hundreds of pounds or dollars on office space? That it makes them look more professional and that otherwise it is impossible to build a team.
Fear. It’s all about fear. Fear about losing the routine banality of coming in, finding your desk and staring at the screen all day (yes, people fear losing that because it’s familiar). Fear that not having a cubicle space that you can call your own will mean that you don’t actually exist? Fear that people won’t take you seriously.
But there is a serious issue behind all this irrational behaviour. The world of work has changed dramatically over the past few decades and all the reasons that people cite for needing their own space have gone away. Between ubiquitous technology, ever improving wifi connectivity and a new breed of desk – co-working clubs and spaces, there are no excuses any more.
Going to the office everyday means travelling, often in peak hours at the same time as everyone else. It doesn’t make sense for anyone – least of all you. Documents are printed for internal meetings just because the printer is there and just because you can. Just think about the amount of resources that we waste just by going to work in an office every day. It’s a while since we used paper and ink as the way to communicate between each other and with suppliers and customers, so there’s no need for us to be on top of each other any more.
“A cubicle is just a padded cell without a door.” – Anonymous
Apparently there are over 10 million office workers in the UK, according to Flexibility.co.uk who say that we work in ‘over 200 million square metres of office space representing a capital investment of more than £120 billion. The basic occupancy costs of this space is about £10 billion per annum, with rates, furniture, service charges, security and facilities management increasing this figure to around £30 billion per annum’. Wow. Worse still, apparently we sit at our desks less than 30% of the working day on average.
And what about the team building? The camaraderie of the office. Well, anyone spending any time as a freelancer will know that the best teams are the ones that you build yourself, when you choose who to work with on a project and how or where you will gather.
The interesting thing about the rise of the independent working economy is that a new working pattern is becoming more and more normal. So these days, it feels archaic to cling onto the trappings of the office. For many free-agents, this would mean a loss of flexibility, not to mention a waste of money.
I wonder how long it will be before that way of working becomes the new normal.