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Mark Heraghty

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Will the office still exist in 2021?

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A decade ago businesses in the UK looked very different to how they do today – just look at the BBC’s ‘The Office’, which first aired in July 2001. Many of us had big, bulky desktop PCs, an agonisingly slow internet connection and a desk phone that looked like something out of the 80s.

Move forward 10 years and things are quite different. Most workers have a laptop or tablet at their disposal, and the ability to make and receive calls on one number using a VoIP phone or smartphone. Many of us also have access to emails whilst on the go and high-speed connectivity at home and in the office.
 
There’s also a lot more choice available today; it’s not just a case of which version of Office to install on the company server. Businesses now have the option to place whatever software and services they use in the cloud, where they can be accessed remotely.
 
It’s therefore no wonder that in a poll we commissioned, 83 per cent of UK workers said that they feel more productive now than they did in 2001. Interestingly, job satisfaction is up too, with 56 per cent of the UK’s workforce saying that they’re happier now than they were a decade ago, as technology has given them more freedom, allowing them to enjoy a far greater work/life balance.
 
But enough about the past – what about the future? What will businesses look like in 2021 – and will the office even exist? Our survey showed that 58 per cent of workers believe offices, as we know them today, won’t exist in 10 years’ time. This change is due to advances in technology, such as Cloud Computing and remote collaboration tools, that mean companies no longer require an office space to do business.

The office-less office
Businesses have now realised that remote workers are just as productive as their office-bound counterparts. In fact a recent report by City & Guilds and the Institute of Leadership & Management found that 75 per cent of managers believe remote workers are more productive. It’s unsurprising that companies are investing in technologies that enable staff to work remotely.
 
Cloud Computing , with its offer of a cheaper and more flexible way of doing things, is proving to be an irresistible proposition for employers searching for new ways to improve how they run their businesses. By giving employees secure access to the applications they need, regardless of where they’re working, Cloud Computing is making it even easier for companies to enable remote working.
 
With remote working technologies in place and staff starting to reap the rewards, it seems inevitable that companies will start to question whether they need an office at all. After all office rental is typically one of the biggest outgoings that most businesses face.
 
As firms continue to tighten their belts, the prospect of removing a major overhead whilst boosting productivity could sound too good to be true, which begs the question – where’s the catch?
 
The problem with ‘remote’ workers
One of the biggest criticisms of remote working by workers is that they can feel cut off from their colleagues, and concerned that they will be overlooked by bosses for promotions in favour of more ‘visible’ members of staff back in the office.
 
To counteract this, businesses are turning to communication and collaboration tools, such as presence management, videoconferencing and instant messaging, to ensure that staff who are working remotely feel as much a part of the business as those physically in the office. In an age of virtual offices, this will become more important than ever.
 
There are also concerns about security, with businesses fearing that confidential information may get into the wrong hands if an employee loses their laptop or has their smartphone stolen. As always, protection against data loss comes down to preparation. Businesses must ensure that access to work files and applications can be disconnected remotely at any time, with any on-device data wiped instantly.
 
Companies should also put two-factor authentication in place to safeguard corporate resources and develop stringent policies that explain what workers need to do if their device is mislaid. That’s nothing above and beyond what most companies are already doing to protect themselves today.
 
Cloud Computing : office killer?
So, in short is Cloud Computing killing the office? No. Whilst the Cloud might be speeding up the move towards a virtual office, it isn’t single-handedly responsible for the demise of the traditional office. For many years, innovations such as laptops, smartphones, and VPNs have been chipping away at our reliance on having a building to work in. The cloud however is more of a sledgehammer. It’s knocking big holes in the argument for why businesses should rent an office, and in doing so is facilitating the next stage in the office’s evolution, which will ultimately lead to a happier, more productive and efficient workforce.

Mark Heraghty is managing director of Virgin Media Business

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