Wednesday 21 September 2016 6:00 am

The office of the future? More traditional than you might think

Richard Kauntze is chief executive of the British Council for Offices

Remote working isn’t a new concept by any means, but in 2016 it’s far easier than in the past – there’s no need to run to phone box to touch base with updates, or carry a week’s worth of work in a stuffed briefcase. For the modern business the constraints of location hardly matter.

Technology allows us to communicate instantly, collaborate remotely and access the information we need anywhere, and at any time. Give employees a mobile phone and you’ve got an instant satellite. You can send a spreadsheet from the top of a mountain – if that’s what you’re into.

For many employers, the plethora of services available has led to exploring the benefits of giving their people the choice to work in a way which suits them. But has the rise of technology spelt the end for the office as we know it? Research from the British Council for Offices (BCO) and Savills suggests that actually, the answer is an emphatic no.

What workers want

The report What Workers’ Want surveyed over 1,100 British office workers in order to assess the needs of the individual employee. It found that less than a third of workers would actually choose to work from home, given the option. Perhaps more surprising is that the figure has actually dropped from 45 per cent in 2013, despite technological advancements making the process more seamless.

What’s more, for many, there remains the considerable lure of having a desk space to call their own. Take the BBC as case in point – at Broadcasting House there are 3,500 desks for a staff of 5,600. The financial motivation to make the most of premium office space often overrides the needs of the people who actually have to work there.

Sixty per cent of the workers spoken to for What Workers’ Want would choose to work from their own desk – another figure that has increased over the past three years. A measly 4 per cent would opt to hot desk, casting doubt over the success of a way of working that many thought would become the future.

Workers In Offices At Night In London
An environment for colleagues to interact and share ideas helps productivity (Source: Getty)

What a way to make a livin'

However, that’s not to say that the office of today is defined by workers chained to their desk from nine to five – far from it.

Workers today want flexibility as to how they work. That almost half consider access to space to collaborate with colleagues as “essential” is testament to that fact – as is the finding that a third would occasionally work from a standing desk if the facilities were available.

Ultimately, one of the main benefits of an office has always been – and will continue to be – that it provides an environment for colleagues to interact and share ideas.

Whichever way people prefer to work – be it standing up or sitting down, at a desk or by the pool – it’s clear that workers still fundamentally value face-to-face interaction with colleagues in a bricks and mortar building.

In trying to create an optimum working environment, a one-size-fits-all approach cannot – and never will – work. Employers need to give teams the opportunity to flex their working style in a way that suits their specific needs.

There’s no question that technology has a key role to play here, facilitating ways of working that can be more efficient, productive and agile. But don’t underestimate the enduring value of the physical office – for now, at least, it’s a tradition that is here to stay.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.