Why The Traditional Office Is Dead


It’s Friday evening here in New Zealand, and another work week has just reached the end of the line.

My commuting costs were nil, my conversations with coworkers and managers were limited to the comfortable arms-length of phone calls and email, and no one disrupted my work by demanding that I attend to their needs right now, like some sort of needy toddler.

To this slightly-reclusive introvert, it was bliss.

No, I’m not self-employed (yet). I have just joined the ever-growing ranks of those who work from home.

And to my delight, there is no pressure from my employer to get everyone back under the same roof. I’ll explain why further on in this post.

In school, we were all deceived into thinking that we just needed to get a few pieces of paper, land a desk job, show up and move some bits of paper to the “done” pile, arrive at 8, go home at 5, do that for 45 years and then go out to pasture.

This would make us useful. And above all, this would give us security – the holy grail of the modern paradigm.

It’s pretty evident by now that corporatism isn’t going to be the way of the future. Blue collar workers were the first to be made redundant by technology. Production line workers were replaced by machinery that was more reliable. Quality checkers were replaced with more accurate lasers. The process of hollowing out the working classes is well underway.

The next group in the robotic sights of technological progression is the middle class.

Suffice to say, if you are under 40 and you have no career plans other than to ride out your working years at a desk drinking bad coffee and playing solitaire when you boss isn’t looking, you could be in for a shock.

Computers don’t need money or motivation or empathy. They are more reliable and efficient than you, and your boss will replace you with them as soon as they can.

After all, why wouldn’t they?

There are quantum changes afoot, and you need to be prepared. I’ve written at length about how to prosper as a millennial in the new economy, how to make money outside of employment, and why you should try to quit the 8-5 game.

But for now, some of us are stuck in between. We know that we won’t feel the excitement we currently do when HR schedule a team building session, or experience the wondrous joy of adventuring into the big smoke with hundreds of fellow travelers, every day until retirement.

A lot of us are preparing for the spectacular obliteration of human employment in our chosen field, and are developing alternative streams of income, such as learning new skills, starting new businesses, or even just being aware of what is coming and keeping our fingers on the pulse.

And while we are in a state of flux, most of us are working regular jobs in offices. Offices that will be emptied long before we are let go to “pursue new opportunities” while our lanyard is bestowed upon C3PO .

Although, that in itself isn’t bad news – in fact, it could prolong the inevitable robot takeover for a while longer by making us more viable as employees.

And that is why I am glad to be working from home – it is a mutually beneficial agreement that no one seemed to have considered until we had to.

Your employer gets more for less

At the end of the day, that is really all a boss cares about, right? If he could pay you $5 an hour to make his budget spreadsheet green across every cell, he would.

Of course, he needs skilled people to deliver a service at a high level, which is the only reason that those who are tick all of the boxes aren’t paid minimum wage. People with the particular expertise and history needed for a specific role are of limited supply, which drives up demand.

Thank you, capitalism!

So if your boss could save money, but still keep you around to run on the hamster wheel, of course he would take it, and that is where remote working becomes a no-brainer for an employer.

Renting office space for each employee to have their own desk?

Gone! We will just have a few hot-desks in a small hub office.

Motivating / whipping employees to work harder?

Gone! They will work harder willingly.

Buying pesky office amenities like coffee machines, milk and photocopy paper and toner?

Gone! They buy their own coffee now, and previously-printed documents are now magically able to be electronic.

Paying to keep the massive office at just the right temperature and humidity?

Gone! Gone! Gone!

Add up these costs for each employee over a mid-to-large-sized company, and you will reach a figure that will entice even the most traditional CEO to chew the tip of their pen in deep contemplation.

You get more time and money

Do you know how much you spend per week on commuting? I didn’t until it was left untouched in my bank account after the first month, like a spontaneous raise.

Add up public transport, fuel, parking, vehicle depreciation, etc. and multiply it over a week. That’s your number, and it could be all yours if you didn’t need to work in an office.

Now, how about your office clothes? Do you need to buy suits, shirts, ties, shoes, and pay for dry-cleaning every week? Kiss that bill goodbye. You can wear pajamas and slippers at home for all your boss cares.

What about buying lunches or barista-made coffees? Cross those off too.

Add up all of those savings and multiply it over a year. How much has been added to your annual salary? Would you take that salary if you were offered a job doing the work that you are doing now, except you have to provide your own shiny desk and gunked-up keyboard?

I would be gone before you could say “pink shirt Fridays”.

Still not convinced? OK, fair enough, but let’s look at the way your lifestyle could change.

I can order things online now and know that I will be home to greet the courier driver as if he is Father Christmas rather than collect it from the depot on my way home, or take my car to a mechanic in the morning and make up the time later, or go and play a rack of pool on my lunch break, or get a coffee and a warm, home-baked cookie dropped off in my office by my partner.

Better yet, I don’t have to even see my boss on a daily basis or put up with that weirdo who stops by my desk to talk about whatever inane office banter has caught his attention this week. My productivity is better than it ever was in an office, because I can work distraction-free.

Can you do all of that in a traditional office?

Didn’t think so.

Now, I understand that not all of us have the social tolerance of Boo Radley, and actually enjoy the companionship of others, even colleagues, on a daily basis.

Well, we live in a world of technology – pick up the phone and talk to your beloved coworkers, or have a video conference over Skype.

If you really must see people in person, meet up with them at a café or library and work together.

Sure, it won’t suit everyone perfectly, but there are at least a lot of benefits for all parties that it might at least get you thinking.

If you want to work remotely, maybe you can suggest some of the benefits for employers listed above to your boss. Sell it as an opportunity to save budget, and you will surely have their undivided attention.

To career success from your sofa.

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