The Office of the Future

The picture of the future that emerged at last week's CoreNet sessions in Atlanta had a few key themes -- mobility, flexibility, technology -- and CRE professionals grappled with an industry changing at the speed of light.

November 10, 2011
By Paul Rosta, Senior Editor

Mobile, flexible, technology-driven. That was the picture of the office of the future that emerged this week at the CoreNet Global Summit in Atlanta. Through case studies, panel discussions and town hall-style sessions, the 1,800 corporate real estate professionals gathered at the Georgia World Congress Center grappled with the challenge of shaping a workplace suitable for a business world changing at the speed of light.

At a press briefing Monday afternoon, a panel of experts from the consulting and corporate worlds offered a snapshot of next-generation workplace strategies. The traditional picture of the cubicle-filled office is quickly giving way to a more open, collaborative environment scenario where workers will use a variety of spaces in a typical day, contended Kay Sargent, vice president of architecture, design and workplace strategies for Teknion, an office furniture designer and manufacturer. “We have to be able to move around,” she said. “We need to change that concept of ‘this is my only space.’” Function, rather than hierarchy, will guide space configuration.

A survey of 30 leading U.S. companies conducted by Teknion suggests that business in the U.S. is already gravitating toward this new model. Almost nine out of 10 of the firms polled said that they plan to step up investment in technology by 2015. Forty-six percent are involved with cloud computing, and more than half—54 percent—use social media as a tool to engage employees. Leading the list of qualities that attract knowledge workers most effectively are workplace flexibility, cited by 41 percent of the companies surveyed, and cutting-edge technology, mentioned by 39 percent.

During the next decade, distinctions between personal and digital technologies will become less clear, and IT computing will be mostly outsourced to the Cloud, predicted Richard Kazdis, CoreNet Global’s vice president for strategic communications. The spread of personal technology will have immense consequences for business, as six billion people will have mobile communications devices by 2020. “People will have a mobile phone before they have electric lights,” said Peter Miscovich, Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.’s managing director for corporate solutions. And the use of office space is in for an overhaul as technology extends its influence. By 2015, the standard space allocated for a worker will drop from 200 square feet to between 50 square feet and 100 square feet, depending on the industry, Miscovich estimated.

Yet the panelists also agreed that shifting concepts will transform the workplace rather than eliminate it. Nearly 90 percent of Cisco’s 85,000 employees in 90-plus countries telecommute at least once a week, reported Relina Bulchandani, director of the internet business solutions group for Cisco Systems Inc. The company is pursuing innovative workplace initiatives such as a “smart work center” in Amsterdam, which is a public-private partnership. “People still need to come into work,” Bulchandani said. “It’s about coming into work and multi-tasking that space.”