Source: The Economist
“From nine till five, I have to spend my time at work,” warbled Martha and the Muffins back in 1980. “My job is very boring, I’m an office clerk.” Many of the hundreds of millions of people who trek into an office will feel as despondent at the prospect as Martha did. The office needs a revamp. But the crisis at WeWork, a trendy office-rental firm whose boss, Adam Neumann (pictured), stepped down this week after its attempt to float its shares turned into a debacle, shows that businesses are still struggling to come up with a new format.
The large office, like the factory, is an invention of the past two centuries. The factory arose because of powered machinery, which required workers to be gathered in one place. Big offices grew from the need to process lots of paperwork, and for managers to instruct clerks on what to do. But now the internet, personal computing and handheld devices mean that transactions can be dealt with on-screen and managers can instantly communicate with their workers, wherever they are. The need for staff to be in one place has been dramatically reduced.
A new model may take time to emerge—electric power was first harnessed in the 1880s but it was not until the 1920s that factories changed their layouts to make full use of it. The new model will have to balance three factors: the desire of many workers for a flexible schedule; the high cost for firms of maintaining office space; and the countervailing desire to gather skilled workers in one place, in the hope that this enhances collaboration. Read the rest of this entry »