Who needs an office anyway?

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Every Monday is a Perfect Workplace Monday at JarkkoLaine.com. This is the first post in that series and we start by digging into the wonders of not having an office at all.

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Last week I wrote about getting rid of your office for ecological reasons. I think I brought up some pretty good arguments for starting to work from home in order to save the planet, but regarding other reasons I barely scratched the surface. Yeah, I think that there is more to it than just what I had in that one blog post.

Disclaimer: I have been told that I sometimes sound like a black and white guy who doesn’t see all the shades of gray. So, to clarify things a bit, I don’t want to claim that I would know all about this topic. I just have been giving it some thoughts and am beginning to think that for many companies a way of working without having an office might actually be a really good and sustainable idea. Both for ecological and other reasons. If you disagree, I’d be happy to hear your take on the idea, and learn something new.

So, what I’m saying is that in the modern times of Internet and fast telecommunication channels we could improve our productivity and quality of life by leaving our offices. People could work from anywhere they would like: their homes, libraries, coffee shops or even summer cottages – actually they could be living anywhere around the globe! This idea is not new, but I think now could be the time to start putting it to practice.

“Why should we do that?”, you ask. Here are my most precious arguments:

  1. Commuting: I’m sure you have better use for the time you spend every day traveling between work and home. The time can be more than two whole weeks each year, you know. Maybe you have a hobby you would like to spend more time on? Or maybe you’d like to pick up a reading habit.
  2. Fresh at work: Also, if you’re a boss, you’d probably like to have your employees to get to work fresh and relaxed. If they wouldn’t have to spend 30 – 60 minutes in a bus every morning (or worse yet, in a traffic jam) but could use that time for sleeping or doing their morning rituals, I’d bet that they would be more relaxed and efficient when starting their work.
  3. Be your own boss: When you are working at your place of choice you get a feeling of autonomy. Not your boss, but you choose how you work and when, so that your work actually fits your schedule and not the other way round. This might be scary for the employer as it forces him to trust the employees. But if he wouldn’t trust you, why would he have hired you in the first place?
  4. Hire the best brains: We’re living in a globalizing world. My father-in-law likes to joke about how globalized I am, and how I don’t think about the world as countries that much, but rather as a single unit. Anyway, what this means is that now for the first time in history you really have the power to hire anyone you want! You don’t need to worry about where they live or if they want to relocate. Actually, if you don’t have an office, there is no place they could relocate to. You can hire anyone and let them stay where they are! Amazing!
  5. Save money: I guess this is something every one of us would like to do whenever possible. If you don’t have an office you’ll be saving potentially a lot of money on things like rent, furniture, electricty, maybe even office supplies and computers as each of your employees would be taking care of their own offices. Doesn’t that sound exciting?

The biggest question that people pose is whether communication would suffer. My hunch is that there would be no significant change in the nature and amount of communication except that it might become more efficient:

  1. E-mail: This is already how most of the communication is happening at information driven companies. It’s not that rare at all that the guy sitting next to you sends you e-mail instead of just talking to you. And if that’s how you communicate most of the time, he doesn’t need to sit next to you – right?
  2. Phone calls: My closest work mate has been at our US office for a while now and a few days ago he called me to get some issue solved. I hadn’t been using a phone that much in my work before that, so at that moment I realized something. When we were having a phone call instead of just sitting next to each other and chatting we were working much harder towards finding a solution than normally. As people don’t want to make phone calls last too long they make phone calls more effective than regular meetings.
  3. Chat rooms: I’ve mentioned Campfire before, but I really think it rocks so I’m mentioning it once more. Campfire is a tool that enables you to create a chat room and invite your colleagues to it. In that chat room you can have an instant face-to-face kind of discussion through your keyboard, but it doesn’t matter if everyone is not there at the same time. The chat is automatically saved so that when you enter the chat you immediately see what other people have been talking about when you were away. What a nice way to replace meetings.

Meetings, face-to-face discussions and general chatter can be easily replaced with the above tools, so the only thing preventing us from going full speed towards this goal is fear. Fear of trying something new, but most importantly the fear that the employees won’t perform well without monitoring. But we’re not living in a Taylorian world anymore: software developers take pride from their work and want to create the best possible end results, so maybe it’s time we start finally trusting each other and let go of our old fears?

What do you think? Would you be ready for a company without an office? Or could it be that you’re already working in one? In any case, feel free to share your thoughts.

6 thoughts on “Who needs an office anyway?

  1. Only thing I’d add, or warn, is to avoid using too small of a home as an office. I’ve experienced this when moving from a 3 bedroom house in Rochester to 1 1/2 (45 Sq m) bedroom flat in London, sharing with my girlfriend. Also, we both use the flat as a home office. I often feel like leaving the flat and going to a coffee shop to do the work. It’s important that you can easily close the door on your work in the evening. Of course the downside I had with living in Rochester was that few days a week I’d spend up to 4 or 5 hours commuting to London. Now some of the jobs are 10 min walk away.

    I concur with using Campfire and would add that Basecamp has really opened the way I collaborate with others.

    kristian’s last blog post: Web Design Workflow for Non-Web Designers

  2. @Christian: Good point! Last week I was working from home in a proper way, in a room with a closed door – and it worked really well. Much better than when I work at my kitchen table :)

    Also, it’s great to hear from you – for some reason I always find it exciting when I see Finns living abroad.

  3. Satu

    The types of offices where I am sitting atm are truly a thing of the past.

    We have a potentially interesting project here at work, called UbiOffice. The purpose of the project is trying to imagine future offices. Is is part of our new Porvoo Campus, that will be executed in a non-traditional way.

    In Joensuu they are one step ahead. Network Oasis is a place, an office hotel so to say, where you can work. You only pay for the time you spend there. Loads of people share the area and computers but nobody owns them. It’s more ecological since less pc’s are needed in total, it gives you an opportunity to meet other people and network but you don’t have to have an office.

    Some info at: http://www.network-oasis.com/main.site?action=siteupdate/view&id=2
    I also have some more info.

    There is also this great woman here in Finland studying the subject, Suvi Nenonen. Dunno how much info there is on her on the Internet, but check her out. I heard her speak once and she was awesome!

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