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Is this the end of the office as we know it?

A survey of 10,000 workers by O2 revealed more than half thought technological breakthroughs will transform the way we work over the next five to ten years. Employment experts believe that working the traditional nine-to-five could soon become a thing of the past because of technological advances and changes to people’s working patterns. Workers will no longer be going to a traditional office, logging on to their PC and picking up the phone. Attitudes among employees will also shift alongside these technological and social changes, with many people in the future not wanting to be tied to one working environment.

O2 Business, which recently commissioned a survey on where people prefer to work, found that over a quarter of workers across the country would choose to work from their local coffee shop if their employers encouraged flexible working. 46 per cent of those polled said they are more productive in this setting, while 47 per cent stated they choose to work from a cafe as they enjoy the change in environment. A recent report by PwC, The future of work – A journey to 2022, highlights the rise of part-time and pay-by-project contractors choosing to work for several employers, with technology creating a virtual office where staff and employers collaborate remotely.

The global report, which surveyed 10,000 workers and 500 HR professionals in China, India, Germany, the UK and the US, found that two out of five people thought that traditional employment will simply not be around in the future. Instead, people will have their own ‘brands’ and sell their skills to those who need them.

Mobile phone providers such as O2 are tapping into this growing need among office workers to work anywhere and everywhere efficiently by developing cloud-based software and hardware. Paul Lawton, head of small business for O2, says: “It’s great to see an increasing number of people working away from the office and this is something I think we will continue to see in the future.”

Retail outlets such as Costa are encouraging people to set up ‘office’ in their coffee shops – they offer free Wi-Fi for all their customers. Alison Heeks, marketing director of Costa UK Retail, said “We have noticed an increase in the number of customers using our stores to work or hold a client meeting.”

Dr João Baptista, associate professor of information systems at Warwick Business School, says the challenge for many businesses will be how to make office work attractive and meaningful enough for people to still want to commute and meet colleagues face-to-face. He says: “Office-based work is still important but in the modern organisation there are new expectations regarding the purpose of face-to-face time and the role of office interactions.”

He believes that “these new structures and expectations require new management skills, as well as revised governance models and organisational culture. Digital leadership skills are therefore key for being an effective manager in the work environment of tomorrow.”

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