Forget the office of the future

What will our working environment look like in the years and decades to come? Mark Samuels has some ideas...

The Doctor's Surgery: Dr Mark Samuels, editor at advisory organisation CIO Connect, examines the future role of the IT leader in this monthly column.

I have always been of the opinion that people in the future will look back at our so-called digital age and laugh.

The kid from the future has a valid point. Self-proclaimed evangelists make good money on the speaking circuit by putting up a bunch of pretty slides and telling us everything just keeps getting better and better.

“You mean the people in the Twenty-First Century looked at screens all day?” says the child of the future to his or her history teacher, who will probably be some sort of droid-like thing or an inert gas.

“They sat, hunched over keyboards and commuted in cramped trains to sit all day in an office? And that was seen as progressive?”

The kid from the future has a valid point. Self-proclaimed evangelists make good money on the speaking circuit by putting up a bunch of pretty slides and telling us everything just keeps getting better and better.

One such guru told me recently he believes the changes we’re experiencing right now during the so-called Information Revolution are more fundamental than those the Victorians experienced during the Industrial Revolution.

Which is nonsense, because how can being able to search for the fourth largest town in Belgium even begin to compare to over-rated discoveries and breakthroughs from the Nineteenth Century, such as electricity and running water? It’s Liège, by the way.

Yet the Information Revolution isn’t just about getting an instant answer to questions in order to provide pub conversation gratification. It’s about mobility, cloud and big data, and all those other hyped-up phrases that are so beloved of the IT marketing community.

Putting all that stuff in the palm of our hands means we will soon all be able to work wherever we want. Another bunch of evangelists make money out of this narrative too, telling us at flashy conferences how to prepare for the office of future.

But the changes enabled through mobile technology will mean the office of the future isn’t much like, well, an office at all. It will actually be more like a sofa, or a Starbucks coffee shop (if we’re not all protesting outside because they haven’t paid a reasonable amount of tax).

So the child of the future is right to laugh, because the journey to the office will by then be viewed as a short and rather bizarre era in the history of human evolution and work. And here’s a concluding punt: I think the end of the office will signal the re-emergence of urban housing.

The solution to the UK’s much talked about housing shortage comes with the demise of the office. Give it a few decades and we’ll all be back living in the centre of towns, just like the Victorians.