Paths for freedom and progress
NOTICE ARCHIVE - 27/07/2018

The office began as a factory for processing information. If you were building ships, teaching children or caring for the sick, you had to go where the work happened: to shipyards, schools and hospitals. But if you were a clerk or a civil servant, a lawyer or an accountant, you just needed a place to sit and write, somewhere to store papers, and access to colleagues. So you went to an office. As the machinery of companies swelled, offices became larger and more specialized, swallowing up more space in towns and cities, and more and more of the people who lived there.


The office was conceived of as a machine: “People are cogs in the machine, and organizations are giant pieces of engineering, and it’s all about economy and efficiency,” says Myerson. Things loosened up after the Second World War with the “social democratic office”, a place of human interaction and social relations, where getting on with other people was key to getting the work done.


Computers have made many of the processing jobs obsolete — and it’s only a matter of time for the rest. In the years to come, advances in artificial intelligence will see machines take over even highly sophisticated activities.
The office is now a factory for “knowledge work”. Knowledge workers are those who “think for a living”. Their work is characterized by creativity, problem-solving and developing new ideas and resources — roles that computers cannot take on so easily. The term “knowledge work” was first coined by management consultant Peter Drucker. He defined knowledge workers as autonomous: they begin by defining a task themselves and are responsible for their own progress. Continuous learning, continuous teaching and continuous innovation are intrinsic to knowledge work, and output is judged on quality, not quantity.

Since the turn of the millennium, place has become increasingly irrelevant and the “networked office” is the actual model. Gathering everybody in one physical place is no longer necessary, soon not even possible. Work is more distributed, collaboration is often between companies rather than within one company. Everyone leaves a digital trace now, so you can see exactly what people have done.


No one has their best ideas at their desk. So why do we still go to the office?
In the 20th century, people had to go to the office because that’s where the tools of their trade were: telephones, fax machines, computers. That’s not true any more. With laptops, smartphones, wireless networks and cloud computing, people can work anywhere. When they do go to the office, they’d rather access company networks using their own computers: Most people feel they’re more productive when they use their own devices.


People went to the office because that’s where everyone else was. That’s no longer true either. Companies are often diversified, global networks, with as many contractors and freelancers as permanent staff. Team members don’t work in the same place or even in the same time zone, and they may choose to structure their hours differently.

As companies compete to attract the best talent, they are having to rethink traditional approaches to work. Younger workers are much more mobile, both within the office itself and in the places where work could be done, that could be client offices, home, co-working spaces, airports. Today office employees work from home at least once a month, or from third places such as cafes or co-working spaces. Gensler’s US Workplace Survey 2016 found that in the most innovative organizations, employees only spend 74% of their time in the office, the equivalent of 3.5 days a week, compared to 86% at the least innovative companies. Those who spend 80% or more of their time in the office are significantly less satisfied with their jobs and workspace and find less meaning in their work.



The rise of the gig economy will fragment organizational structures even further. A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.




Digital platforms and smart devices enable companies to access a vast global pool of talent, and allow footloose workers to pursue new kinds of portfolio careers. “Every single business is having its operations transformed by automation and by access to digital talent platforms — the human cloud,” says Carroll.
The gig economy is a good fit for knowledge work: both prioritize autonomy, measure performance rather than attendance, and judge results, not the process that is used to create them. Upwork, the largest platform for knowledge work, claims to have 12 million registered freelancers, from designers and creatives to marketing experts and accountants.




Gig work is based on temporary jobs or doing separate pieces of work, each paid separately, rather than working for an employer. About 20-30% of the working age population of the US and Europe engages in independent work. The vast majority are engaged in selling their labour. For some, gig work is a poor, insecure second choice to full-time employment. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=p14v4FbKhrg


Autonomy is important — respondents in the most innovative companies are twice as likely to be able to choose where and when they worked as the least innovative. What employees are looking for is always changing. All are striving for that new experience or the latest, greatest technology. The physical work environment always needs to be evolving.




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