Is the Workplace of the Future Officeless?

January 11, 2017

Each year, Fortune publishes their predictions for the coming year about everything from tech to business and politics with a dash of entertainment and fashion thrown in. This year, one of the publication’s bolder predictions caught our eye: A Fortune 100 company will go office-free.

In 2017 the slow dissolution of the workplace will reach its natural conclusion: The first Fortune 100 company will jettison the office altogether. - The Fortune 2017 Crystal Ball

Citing the bygone days of personal offices and even cubicles, Fortune said “[W]hy foot a hefty real estate bill when telecommuting is an option?” Certainly we’ve seen a rise in telecommuting over the last decade, with the sharpest growth in the last few years. But an office-free environment is far from the cost-saving, productivity nirvana people are looking for.

“Even with telecommuting becoming a more readily available option for many professionals today, what we’ve seen from our Workplace Index is that people are still the most productive when they’re in the office,” says Staples North American Delivery President Neil Ringel. “But the challenge inherent in that is that decision makers need to hold themselves accountable for finding and taking opportunities to improve the office to reduce employee burnout. Thoughtful workplace solutions like wellness programs, stocked breakrooms and intentionally designed collaborative spaces can boost employee productivity and happiness and help fight burnout.”

Even with the extra productivity oomph the office gives, however, experts aren’t surprised by the notion of a business going office-free. “I’m not shocked that a company would go office-free,” says workplace strategist Jenya Adler. “But we have a long way to go for this to become the norm, and even then, I think we’ll see a lot of issues, as we did with the backlash against the open office.”

And it turns out, Fortune agrees; though they do predict the office-free business, they also predict negative feedback to some serious consequences of a telework-centric operation: “A backlash may be brewing, though, as mentoring drops off, laptop-bound workers report ergonomic issues, and employees burn out when they find themselves literally living at the office.”

The learnings that would come from such a big company going officeless would no doubt lead to office space innovations aimed at addressing issues like real estate overhead, space reclamation, adaptable offices, social connections, and more. In fact, these themes came out in the forward-looking designs during the Tomorrow’s Workplace competition.  But even with designers and architects envisioning bold leaps in the next few years, an office-free world is “still on the extreme,” says Adler.

So in the next 12 months, do you think we’ll see a Fortune 100 company say au revoir to the office, or is Fortune one cubicle short on their predictions?

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