Does an office matter?

We recently moved our office to a new location in the city.  We are sharing space with another growing, interesting company who specialises in software development and assisting organisations to achieve greater agility. Its industrial, its white, desks are minimal, there is colour and a varied use of spaces too.  People have personalised the shared spaces, with artwork, stencilled sayings, some street art and plenty of group character.  Individual character is absent though, there is no “bosses office”, all the furniture is the same, there are no photos of the family or partner.  Instead there are white boards, plants, minimal storage and plenty of technology.  Everyone is connected and moving.

Our clients are typically larger corporates, we have seen similar changes in their work environments too over the last few years.  More space devoted to collaboration, minimum numbers of desks, even lockers (since people don’t have their own desk anymore), splashes of colour.  The accountants love it as density is maxed out and space is minimised.  Problems do come when people need to meet or take a difficult phone call.  Problems also arise for the nearby coffee shops, as they turn into quasi work space and people with laptops hog the tables.  Some corporates deliberately provision insufficient desks.

Going back a decade or two, offices were quite a different concept.  We had to have the corporate office, so we could bring client’s back and prove our worth by showing off our office space.  We purchased and renovated.  As a “boss”, we had our own four walled office, with a window of course.  We really wanted a pot plant too, that would have really made a statement.  Pictures on the walls, mementos in the bookcase, paper files everywhere, a filing cabinet, an in tray too.  We had an administration support person who would assist us of course.

Then there was the IT support.  We had a server (which we thought was possessed by the devil).  We had numerous printers, cupboards for all the paper and toner, network switches, blue cables, DVDs, USBs and endless cables.  We had backup drives, emergency power supplies, perhaps if we were big enough a dedicated IT support person.  We plugged in our mobile to our PC, hoping they would backup the calendar.  We had Email, we had a web site, we were connected (by the blue cable).

So what really changed?  Work from home has become a reality, whereby it used to be code for a day off.  Laptops or tablets with wifi connection are the norm, when is the last time you saw a desktop PC?  Scanned documents and electronic filing kept in the cloud have made filing cabinets redundant.  Software as a Service has done away with dedicated servers and the dreaded need to “upgrade”.  A “do it yourself” mentality combined with ingrained IT skills have done away with the need for admin and IT support.  It is a different world and continues to change, what next?

To be honest it’s a pretty nice work environment.  I like open plan rather than being stuck in an office.  I like flexibility rather than being tied down.  I like it being sustainable – give me a second screen over a printed document any day.  I like the lack of “stuff”, we got rid of so much.

So does an office matter?  It does, but what we mean by an office has changed.  I would be happy to show clients our office, happier still to grab a coffee in one of the many coffee shops nearby.

What does all this mean for projects and the PMO?  Collaboration systems, flexibility and innovation in communications.  You need the systems to benefit from the changing nature of work, you need people like us to set them up properly.