Do we really need an office any more?

Does working from home - or anywhere other than the office - make business sense?

"But being a social worker is not just about acting in the field. Being able to return to an office environment provides face-to-face interaction with co-workers. These peers provide an essential support network for social workers and improvements offered through flexibility are not a like-for-like replacement for co-worker interaction."

The office is dying. People need to get together but do you really need to do that every day in an office that is expensive to own and run? Executives will have to manage people remotely and be confident they're still contributing.

Employees are not only keen to be part of an office environment in order to gain from social benefits. Workers are also keen to be seen to be working, and ILM's research found home working tends to correlate with seniority. The survey found 77 per cent of chief executives and 54 per cent of senior managers work flexibly, compared with 37 per cent of first-line managers.

ILM found a quarter of executives believe flexibility is not seen as appropriate for managers, with a fifth believing that working away from the office would be career limiting. But change can happen and new trends can quickly emerge. A confluence of economic conditions and technological capability can mean something that was once seen as anathema can eventually be adopted successfully.

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Mark Clarke, head of technology and operations strategy at Barclays Bank, says CIOs would never have been talking about a tablet strategy two or three years ago, particularly in a banking organisation. "But convergence of data and mobility is transforming how IT is being consumed. You just don't need to spend 20 per cent of your day commuting," he says.

Stuart Page, group CIO at Bauer Medla, is another IT leader who believes flexibility is the way forwards. His firm has an ever-increasing number of people working from home. Page says the firm originally managed flexible working as a separate management process. Yet the rise of consumer IT means such tight control is no longer necessary.

"Everyone has broadband access at home now and you just need to provide people with secure, virtual access to their enterprise apps," says Page, who outlines how mobility is already extended across the media firm's disparate departments. "Even some of our presenters on radio work from home via an ISDN line," he says.

Flexible working, therefore, isn't for everyone. But modern organisations cannot afford to maintain a dedicated office space just because of the need for face-to-face collaboration. "Some people like to come into an office," says Page. "But there's a shift taking place and, in most companies, there will eventually be a smaller core of workers in a head office who are servicing a larger group of flexible workers."

Poli Avramidis, CIO at the BMA, also believes the traditional office is on its way out. Flexibility should, in the case, of many roles mean that being located in a central head office is no longer crucial, he says. For organisations that make the move towards decentralisation, senior executives will have to concentrate on ensuring collaboration and productivity stay high.

"The office is dying," says Avramidis. "People need to get together but do you really need to do that every day in an office that is expensive to own and run? Executives will have to manage people remotely and be confident they're still contributing." 

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