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‘I’m not an office person’ is a comment heard a lot, either by an office worker looking wistfully out of the window or by a fire-fighter, nurse, postman, gardener or pilot. The phrase ‘office gossip’ speaks for itself, that chatter that takes up a good proportion of a working day. And then there is ‘office politics’: the unspoken rules hard to explain to a newcomer – and often intrinsically linked to office gossip.
A current Radio 4 programme investigates how the office that we all recognise today and that most of us have experienced – if only as a summer job – came about.
Whereas religious dedication used to drive architectural ambition and dictated the skyline of cities all over the world, now it is office buildings that have crept up, storey by storey, in line with their creeping importance in our everyday lives and in the world’s capitalist economy. The raison d’être of today’s transport systems are largely to carry people to and from their offices, and the economy of the UK and London in particular are bolstered by investment in office buildings: constructing them, renting them, selling them, buying them, redeveloping them.
As the world has become less industrial and more technological, more and more tasks can be done via computer rather than manually, remotely rather than on-site. Therefore ever more computers are needed – and more desks are needed for them to sit on. Or are they? Have we reached a peak in terms of offices?
If we look at just the last two years, what we used to do at our desks we now do with a touch of a screen walking down the road or while cooking dinner. Online shopping can be ordered from an app on a phone while waiting in traffic. More and more people are making the move to work from home, often without an office at all, but working in a bedroom or at the dining room table, as well as on the train to and from the more traditional office. Windows 8 and Office 2013 are designed for the touch-screen generation; is this how the office workforce will function in the future? Will the ‘out of office’ reply become defunct?
In fact, while technology escapes the confines of the four walls of the office and helps us work elsewhere, it’s more likely that the traditional office will continue to dominate both the physical space of the urban environment and the working habits of the average office employee. Offices will incorporate increasingly sophisticated technology, and the limits of working in one place will simply continue to blur. Perhaps, in the way we have seen ‘hotdesks’ in the past, we will see ‘hotbuildings’ in the future, offices in Shoreditch, or King’s Cross, where you can turn up and work next to your pal, who works for an entirely different employer. Or, then again, is this just known as Starbucks?
Morgan Pryce is a specialist tenant acquisition agent with offices in Oxford Circus and the City. Morgan Pryce specialises in search, negotiation and project management and works exclusively for tenants.