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Commercial property blog: Why the office will never say die26th February 2014

Commercial property blog: Why the office will never say dieDebates on the paperless office, the wireless office and even the death of the office have now all been raging for decades. Certainly the office has evolved over the years to keep up with changing requirements and new ways of working but it remains – as ever – an important element of the majority of most successful businesses.

As technology continues to improve the portability, reliability and interconnectivity of computer devices, the office will become increasingly paperless. Tablet and phone productivity apps such as Evernote, Trello, and many others like them will reduce the need for post-it notes and to-do lists, while presentation apps such as Prezi will make printed presentations and documents seem antiquated and superfluous. Old habits die hard though and paper, in some form or another, will be present for many years to come for the simple reason that using paper in tasks such as taking notes in a meeting or taking down a phone message are deeply ingrained, although in the long run it takes more effort compared to a digital device.

By the same token, while the wireless office is largely already here, the concept of a pure wireless office is unlikely ever to exist. Unless wireless power transmission becomes a viable option in the workplace, we will always need decent cable management systems in our offices. We may, however, see charging mats for electronic devices such as phones and tablets become more widespread, and wireless internet and laptops (albeit with charging docks) will enable more flexible working environments where individuals are not chained to a specific desk in a specific building.

The internal layout and form of the office will continue to evolve to increase flexibility, efficiency and comfort, but will the office building itself ever be surplus to requirements? A lot of investors and property directors with vast office portfolios will shift uncomfortably in their chairs at the thought of this. If we head towards a world where we no longer need to interact with co-workers then yes, it may well be surplus to requirements; but is that really a likely scenario?

Far more probable is that inflexible accommodation will become obsolete, and accommodation that can flex to meet the changing demands will flourish. Human interaction is key to business success and no matter how good communications using new technologies become, we will always need to interact with each other face-to-face. This point can be shown quite neatly by the growing popularity of hubs for freelancers and sole traders, or even the amount of people tapping away at their laptops in cafes: people crave contact, networking is an important part of business, and many employees simply don’t like working at home by themselves, day in, day out.

With Yahoo’s recent controversial banning of working from home this need to interact was brought sharply into sharp focus. The Company’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, rightly pointed out that people are more collaborative and innovative when they are together, albeit they can be more productive when they are alone. So office buildings need to be able to accommodate a variety of settings for different tasks to encourage this innovation and creativity, yet also provide for quiet, heads-down work spaces, so that both solo productivity and team collaboration and innovation can be accommodated in the best way.

There will always be a need to bring people together for at least part of their working life, so the shrewd investor will put their trust in office properties that possess sound structure and building fabric, that are nourished by good mechanical and electrical services, but above all are able to stave off future functional obsolescence by an inherent flexibility.

About the author

Seth Love-Jones, partner at construction and property consultancy, Tuffin Ferraby TaylorSeth Love-Jones is a partner at construction and property consultancy, Tuffin Ferraby Taylor.


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