Over Easter, Helen & I went up to her folk’s place in Macclesfield, and on Sunday went for a walk around Tegg’s Nose, a rocky little hillock on the outskirts of the town.
It’s all very countrified until you turn one particular corner…
…and stumble upon a giant crane and other related machinery.
There used to be a quarry on the side of Tegg’s Nose, which started off producing large blocks of stone (apparently a lot of Macclesfield was originally paved with Tegg’s Nose stone because it lasted so long).
Then they moved on to crushed stone for airstrips and road foundations. Production finally stopped in the fifties, and the machinery was just left on the landscape…
It occurred that just as we’ve moved away from from previous buildings and constructions in the past (like the quarry, or the mill building scattered throughout the North of England), in the future we may well start moving away from the current workplace for many; the office.
People were originally brought together in offices for a number of reasons. It used to be the office was the part of the factory where the management, finance and marketing folk would sit.
Then, as more firms were founded to work in the knowledge based economy, offices existed that ‘made’ things that people could create and capture using their own heads and an OHP slide or two.
You were together in an office so that you could all share resources, like the typing pool, or the photocopier…
All the while, there was one major motivation for having all of your people together in one location… it was the only way to get things done quickly.
People had to talk to each other, share documents, work on projects together, issue deadlines… by bringing a community together in one place, you could succeed in achieving your aims.
Which of course, is no longer necessarily the case. We don’t have to be physically together to form a community and make things happen.
For folk who work in the knowledge economy, most of the tools we need to create, collaborate and share are in our own homes, or even in the bags we carry with us. The round trip commute into the office may start to become a thing of the past… if not for all, then definitely for some.
So what could happen if more people worked from home more often?
If you have less of your total employees coming into the workplace everyday, as the employer you’re going to need less space. What you do with it is up to you (you could choose to create wonderful thinking spaces instead), but by and large over time the trend would lead to offices being reduced in size… so a 250 person outfit may choose to have seating for 200, or even 150.
Which makes knowledge based companies a lot cheaper to run. I was once told by someone in a previous job that the cost of sitting someone at a desk was roughly the same as the average salary across the company; it’s a huge potential saving.
If you think about major cities across the world, you inevitably picture high rise offices… giant termite mounds where the inhabitants stream in and out every morning.
With less need for office space, and therefore less total office space demanded, the dynamics of cities will start to subtly shift. City centre residential accommodation could become more prevalent and affordable, whilst the commercial property sector would shrink.
The land use of cities will change. Office space starts to be replaced, with both accommodation and perhaps with…
More ‘third places‘
“Oldenburg calls one’s “first place” the home and those that one lives with. The “second place” is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction.”
Increasing we’re seeing coffee shops, community centres, coworking space and so on become ‘third places’… somewhere you can take a laptop, hook into the wifi which comes with your cappuccino, and get stuff done in more interesting and inspiring surrounds…
I touched on that before in this…
Massive environmental benefits
Finally, of course, with less movement of people every day, as they stay home or walk to a third place around the corner, we’re going to be using less transportation resources.
There’s a great report on Treehugger (via goodcleantech) about the environmental benefits of more people telecommuting (or Cloudworking as it may become increasingly known):
“American workers spend an average of 47 hours per year commuting through rush hour traffic. This adds up to 3.7 billion hours and 23 billion gallons of gas wasted in traffic each year.” Imagine the effect on the CO2 reduction targets that could be achieved by just 20% of urban dwellers cloudworking in the future. It could well provide a huge chunk of the target we need to hit. Not now… but soon I realise that this isn’t really a short term issue. As well as the time it will take companies and people to change, there’s still various issues up for debate (companies having trust in off-site employees, productivity, face to face connections etc)… …but when you walk through major towns and cities at the moment and see yet more ‘new office to rent’ signs going up, you just have to question exactly how many more we actually need. How many will we eventually just leave behind, empty, deserted like the crane on the side of Tegg’s Nose..?
final pic: David Kitching
PS: for those who don’t know but should, “More blogs about Buildings (not Food)” refers to this…]]>