Bigger than BYOD: The iffy future of the corporate office

There are lots of reasons for knowledge workers to say no to the company office, as well as some challenges

Do you really need an office or dedicated workspace at a company site? If you're a knowledge worker -- what we used to call white-collar workers -- you probably don't. Chances are you already work at home multiple days a month, perhaps even once or twice a week. I know many companies that have moved to the concept of hoteling, where most people have no dedicated space but instead reserve a desk when they need or want to come into the office, such as for face-to-face meetings with colleagues or clients. Maybe that's the direction in which we should be moving. But it's not solely cake and ice cream.

All the advantages of avoiding the office
There are many advantages to not going to an office, starting with saving money on gas and transit, as well as commute time. Most people I know use that time to work more, which companies like, though it raises issues for union workforces, overtime calculations, and other HR/legal matters -- areas way behind the reality of work today.

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You also get greater schedule flexibility. Work and personal long ago blended for information workers, despite what companies say about not using your phone or PC on the job for personal reasons beyond emergencies or breaktime activities. Of course, companies don't ask their employees to refrain from work after hours at home -- it's OK for companies to use your resources, even if you can't use theirs. Many companies also turn a blind eye to the use of personal technology at home or in the office. In the end, it's free labor. So most employees who flex on behalf of the compay expect their company to flex in return, and they act accordingly.

The home office is much more focused. My work is collaborative, but not often in a live, in-person way. Being in a room full of people talking and typing and walking is distracting, and it will get worse when my company moves us to a smaller space with lower dividers. Of course, if our work demanded more real-time, face-to-face collaboration, the separation would be a problem and having more shared space would be a positive -- what's an advantage for one employee's situation may be a disadvantage for another's.

That flexibility and quiet is well and good for people who are self-directed and trustworthy. The rest shouldn't be working outside of a supervised environment, though supervision can be electronic and still allow for working offsite such as at a home office or a remote shared workspace (increasingly seen in cities).

I prefer working at home not only for the flexibility and saved commute time -- more important, I have better technology at home than I do at the office. My MacBook at the office is four years old and perfectly serviceable, but it's slow compared to my one-year-old model at home, especially now that IT has installed Symantec antivirus on my work Mac, which has slowed it even more and periodically pesters me with useless notices that can't be turned off. (My Windows-using friends have welcomed me to their world.) Plus, Symantec uses Java, which is where the latest Trojans came from, so my work Mac is more exposed than my home Mac because its antivirus protection makes me turn on Java -- Kafkaesque, isn't it?

My moderate-speed cable plan (3Mbps) at home is much faster than the Internet access at the office. It's usually the other way around, and in fact used to be. Who knows the cause? But I do know that at home I can take care of such matters, while at work I'm stuck with whatever's available.

And that's the real issue. I choose my broadband service, my computer, my peripherals, my desk and chair, my backup strategy (I save more documents and data at home than the office does, so my home archives are more complete), and so on at home. At work, I get whatever is provided, which is sometimes great and sometimes not. No wonder that the federal government and many companies and local governments encourage work at home, even subsidizing employee purchase of standard tools such as Microsoft Office.

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