Why The Death Of The Office Can’t Come Too Soon

“We literally followed people around all day and timed every event [that happened in the office], to the second.

That meant telephone calls, working on documents, typing e-mails, or interacting with someone.

What we found is that the average amount of time that people spent on any single event before being interrupted

was about three minutes.” – Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California


If you are working in an office today you will be interrupted – or you will interrupt yourself – every 3 minutes.

And what’s worse is it will take many of you up to 23 minutes to recover from that distraction.

If your boss lets you – go home. It’s the most productive decision you’ll make this year.

Here are four reasons why the office should have died by now:

  1. UK workers spend a year of their lives in meetings. If you work in the public sector it’s even worse – with nearly 2 years waste clocked up for every worker.
  2. You spend another year of your life commuting to and from work. At a total cost of about £50,000. 
  3. You spend about 60% of your time on email.  That’s about 4 years of your life.
  4. The office doesn’t have great long term prospects. Only 14% of UK workers want to work in a traditional office environment in the future.

And that’s before we go near writing reports. Around 90% never get cited anywhere and 50% of them are only read by the authors and commissioners.

So that’s 7 years off your life and and financial costs of at least £50K.

Only long term smoking can compare to the corrosive effects of the office.

But it gets worse.

You’re highly unlikely to ever have a single creative idea at work as detailed in the graph below:


Most people simply don’t have the time to be creative at work. They are too busy shovelling email and being bored in meetings.

Personally speaking my best ideas come not only when I’m away from the office , but when I’m as far away from it as possible.

The initial outline of what will become our online customer portal was done on a beach in Egypt. The first Power Players was developed and written in a bar in Jamaica. The concept of the Bromford Lab was initially sketched out waiting for a boat in Bali.

Bromford get the best value of out of me when I’m nowhere near them. And your employer probably does too.

So why do we all turn up at the office?

Well – there’s a wonderful scene in the original Dawn of The Dead where two characters observe the mass of zombies circulating an abandoned shopping mall.

“What are they doing? Why do they come here?” asks one.

The other replies “Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.”

And it’s this – a memory of what we used to do – that explains why we are locked into a pattern of coming to a place to sit at a screen and do emails.

That – together with a failure by organisations to trust in people and take advantage of social technology.

One of the major benefits we’ve found of launching the Bromford Lab is we are encouraged to throw off the shackles. We haven’t created new rules for meetings – we’ve eradicated the need for them altogether.  We’ve eliminated reports by updating blogs and social sites on a regular basis. We are killing email by using more collaborative forums like Basecamp, Trello, Whatsapp and even Snapchat.

I find it amusing that the question most often asked of the digital evangelists is “how do you find time to use social media?”

The people I know who are the most social are the people who (coincidentally?) call less meetings, send less email and demand less reports.

Think of the leaders who are not regular social users, who scoff at the idea of digital leadership,  and I think you’ll be close to identifying the problem.

But social leadership is more than being on LinkedIn and tweeting when you go to a conference. It’s about considering the strategic use of social technologies and the broader change to your culture.

  • It’s about asking yourself if you started again in 2014 whether you’d have that meeting, require that email or need that report.
  • It’s about re-evaluating your business and the way you operate in a world that is permanently connected.
  • It’s about asking yourself whether you need to physically see people in front of you to trust they are doing a good job.
  • It’s about designing out 7 years worth of waste.

The death of the traditional office and all the trimmings can’t come too soon.

The future of work is less about a physical place and more about social business: the value you bring to your network,  the trust you inspire in people and the way you share knowledge to make things happen.

Let’s bring it on.


141 thoughts on “Why The Death Of The Office Can’t Come Too Soon

  1. Morning Paul! I trust all is well! There’s one part of me that agrees with you wholeheartedly and another that disagrees with you in the strongest possible terms!

    I’ll give this afternoon as an example – I’m working on a project that requires a bit of headspace. I don’t want to be interrupted and I need to be as far away from the office as possible. My very understanding boss knows that this project will be best done at home, and everyone will get better results. He knows I’m not taking the mick and watching Jeremy Kyle – because there’s no commuting, I’ll actually work longer than I’d do if I was in the office.

    So in that respect, I’m glad you’ve raised this because you are absolutely totally and utterly right!


    Some of my best work has been done collaboratively, with my colleagues, fleshing out the bare bones of an idea until it’s fully formed. Ideas are made better when you involve others.

    I’ve been ‘social’ for so long that it’s embedded in the way I live my life, and I see digital collaboration as equally important. When I’ve finished this, for example, I’ll tweet you!

    But I’m yet to be convinced that there isn’t a place for real, face to face contact. Body language, shifts in facial expression are equally important communication tools and it’s hard to replicate them digitally.

    Finally, my job, like many, relies heavily on empathy and understanding. I need to understand what people in my organisation and our tenants are thinking, as well as what they are saying. Sometimes immersing myself in an office environment is EXACTLY the right way to gain that understanding. It’s the hushed conversation between two colleagues in the kitchen, or the laughter and giddiness from a team three seats away or the slamming down of a phone and swearing! Those aren’t emotions that people would necessarily share publicly.

    While those are no doubt distracting, I consider my understanding of the reasons behind them to be part of my work in exactly the same way as I see writing a press release or our annual report. It helps me do my job WELL.

    So I suppose I’d be a bit more measured than your post – be more flexible, work where you want as long as they job gets done!

    1. Thanks Pamela – for a very considered comment and I think we are far closer in our thinking than you might realise.

      Yesterday (and today!) we hosted sessions in the Lab with small groups of colleagues. We simply couldn’t have created the energy, ideas and outcomes in any virtual forum. For some things face to face beats everything.

      But that’s not the norm and I’m questioning whether the office should operate as the default. Equally – whilst you work for a great employer who gives you the flexibility to work from home the reality is that isn’t true for the majority of the UK.

      I’m not against the use of space. Just bad use of it. And if 60% of peoples time is spent on email they’d be better working at home. It would at least save the poor souls the one year commute and the two years of meetings..

      1. Pamela is right – the golden rule of flexible working is that you work in the most appropriate place to get the thing done that you’re doing – which might mean home, the office, a cafe or a community centre.

        So, Paul’s blatant link-baiting with his post title (just teasing!) probably could be watered down a bit.

        From my experience, the big win with this stuff is not so much the savings on the estate, but a happier, more productive workforce.

        It involves a lot of culture shift – curiously as much with the flexible workers as with their managers. There’s stuff here around permission and outcome focused performance that’s tricky for both sides.

        Finally, to make this work you do need the tech. Successful flexible workers have always available video conferencing, instant messaging, social networking, collaborative tools as well as good old email available to them. Without it, they become cut off from the rest of the team and the opportunity is lost.

      2. So you have ‘eradicated the need for meetings’ but ‘sessions with colleagues’ still beat everything. I’m confused. In what way do your sessions with colleagues not resemble meetings?

        1. Hi Stew – we are working utilising an approach of sprint planning similar as found in software development. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrum_(software_development).

          This isn’t the same as a meeting where people come (like it not) with a set agenda, on a monthly basis, whether or not it’s needed.

          With our approach there is one sprint plan per week. Usually about 30 minutes. After that our Lab Manager has complete autonomy to assemble the people she needs to bring together to achieve set tasks. This is completely voluntary and no-one is compelled to attend.

          And people can drop out at any stage or even switch the concept they are involved in. There will further posts on this as the approach develops!

          1. Utilising the approach, planning the sprint, assembling the people… This imprecise jargon rings noisy alarm bells in me!

            Personally I don’t mind reports, emails, or meetings – I think they help to structure ideas, get involvement of people in remote places without a lot of travel and increase creativity. Sure there are bad meetings and bad emails but the answer to that is to have better meetings and use email better. Your definition of meeting as necessarily something enforced, fixed, structured is a straw man – I never go to meetings like that. They are still meetings though.

            Any work approach is a means to an end but this piece to me seems to be prescribing a new ideal of work which is sitting at home thinking and writing blog posts without reference the work’s purpose. In my experience the office is a positive encouraging place which brings people together, organises problems and responses to them, and energises and motivates staff. Willing the death of the office based on your arguments is misguided.

            1. Stew – clearly we don’t need to agree on this, the challenge is good. But just to clarify a couple of things:

              The title of the post is provocative and adopts an extreme stance. I’m not proposing we all pack up and close down offices tomorrow – just that we give more urgency of thought to the office as the default.

              The office has, for all intents and purposes, fulfilled the same function since the 1950s. Unprecedented social and technological change has occurred within that time. It’s overdue for reconsideration.

              I couldn’t agree more that any work approach is a means to an end of delivering value to your customer. But that doesn’t mean adopting the same practices and mindsets that we have for the past 60 years.

              It’s wonderful that you have such an amazing office experience (truly). But that simply isn’t true for the majority of people. Only 14% of UK workers want to work in the traditional office in the future. The UK is 18th of 20 countries when it comes to employee engagement.

              That calls for more radical solutions than better use of email and meetings.

              Just my opinion though.

  2. Another interesting read as ever Paul. The key theme I took away is that I need to ask my boss to fund numerous holidays for me to get the best out of me!!! I am fully on board with this and will prepare a few reports to bring up at the next 8 mgt and board meetings to discuss!!!

  3. A very thought provoking post. Pamela’s comment above is very interesting, and seems to echo some of what Marissa Mayer was saying when she banned Yahoo! employees from working from home (an extreme case – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/19/marissa-mayer-work-from-home_n_3117352.html). Like her, I’m torn somewhat – a case of horses for courses? In the meantime, well worth cancelling some of those pointless meetings we all end up at!

    – Dyfrig

    1. Thanks Dyfrig. I don’t disagree but what I think Marissa Mayer was addressing was a broken culture issue rather than a working from home issue.

      As I’ve said in previous comment – the position I’m questioning is the office as default. If you look around in most offices you’ll see people at banks of desks – with their own defensible space – doing email and documents. It’s not collaborative work they are doing. It could be done from Australia (just they wouldn’t have to do the meetings then!)

  4. If productivity is measured by ‘doing stuff’, then not working in an office every day helps. We work flexibly and I am in our main office twice a week so I can vouch for the benefits of this. Where I agree with Pamela is that, as comms people who need to be on top of what’s happening and what the mood is, you can’t beat face to face. Don’t underestimate either how isolated and ‘out of the loop’ people can feel when they come in less often. That’s not an argument for the status quo but – as ever – this isn’t as black and white as we’d like it to be.
    One other point: being out of the office doesn’t take away the need to respond to email. I spend more time responding to them when I’m ‘away from my desk’ than when I’m at base, probably in meetings or on the phone. That’s one element of flexible working that is ripe for change, in my view.

    1. Thanks Ben – and I agree this isn’t a black and white issue. You are spot on to point out the isolating effects but perhaps we’d be better spending time being creative around reducing this than making most roles ‘office by default’.

      For me the location issue is less important than the practices and cultures that come with it – the email, reports and meetings . Problems that don’t go away by just home-working , as you rightly point out.

      PS I know this doesn’t apply to you or Pamela (or Bromford) but I know of Comms teams who admit they’ve never left “Head Office” so I’d question whether being office based automatically puts you in touch with things!

  5. A new role for housing associations converting soon to be defunct office space into homes. Also thinking what if housing association offices became community hubs promoting more collaboration with their customers, training digital champions and supporting local community builders to create more resilient communities?.

    1. Love this, Shirley. My thinking was sparked when I saw a Care Home a few years ago that had a cafe open to the public so the residents could mingle with non-residents. I am sure this is a more common practice now, but is was revolutionary then.

      How about employers, including Housing Associations, open up co-working coffee shops so their employees can work in a relaxed environment and mix in with others who come in for coffee and wifi?

      1. Thanks both.

        Take circa 1500 Housing Associations as example. Everyone has an office. Many will have 10 or more.

        Let’s be conservative and say there are 5000.

        Let’s convert 4000 of them into home hubs housing people but also providing some essential services that don’t fit a homeworking model. They could also accomodate collaborative spaces for teams who are home-working to come together for team building.

        The other 1000 we could convert into larger multi purpose community hubs that also provide worker space for people from health, care , support and housing to break down silos.

        That’s just HA’s. Add the other services in and you’re probably looking at minimum 100,000 offices that could be repurposed.

  6. Great stuff, I think it depends on the person / team. I know personally that my peak work time / creative idea time is midnight – 3am. It always has been, it’s when I’ve wrote songs, do all my photo work and back in the day wrote my essays. The standard 9-5 doesn’t allow for this.

    Over the last month I’ve been working on a new team and I’ve been working from home a lot / working on my own at work with headphones on (similar thing) and I’m 100% more productive in that environment.

    Sat at home, working on creating stuff at midnight in my PJ’s may not be the first thing you think of when you think of business productivity but for me it works, for others it wouldn’t, it’s all about flexibility and recognising that different people have different methods of achieving peak performance.

    Nice post.

    1. Thanks Thom I agree.

      However – I do think some people (mainly on Twitter) have misinterpreted the point of the post. It wasn’t saying location was the key thing and home is so much better – just that traditional office work has become toxic.

      There is more spam in the average office than in an unfiltered inbox. It has been repurposed for 40 years.

      Really this is about organisational and role design. Eliminating waste through design and flow is not something organisations spend much time thinking about.

      And they should!

  7. Thought provoking and packed with some lovely data that I’d love to be able to use. A cursory Google search suggests Gloria Mark’s research paper on work interruption is 6 years old, and the key finding was that people complete interrupted tasks in less time than non-interrupted tasks with no loss in quality. Any idea if this work has been updated? – a lot has happened in the digital world since 2008! Here’s a link to the paper I found: http://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/chi08-mark.pdf

    1. Thanks Jon – I hadn’t seen that one!

      I did look for an updated study and the one I found was this http://research.microsoft.com/pubs/209411/Focus%20Camera-Ready%20Final.pdf (involving Gloria Mark) that looks at attention focus and boredom. It seems to end with the possibility of an updated research paper on digital distraction – so fingers crossed!

      I agree – a lot has changed – especially in past 2 years with more organisations using social networking as the norm. I’d like to see a study of how people have used social to develop new relationships and eliminate silos and whether this has increased productivity.

  8. Another insightful article from Paul – we are trying to go everything we can to avoid having an office (over 12 full-time staff and 25+ associates) – we find that short focused calls and face time as individuals is so much more productive. We rent a room in a very prestigious address every 2 weeks for a day and run a briefing session with our staff which has only a loose agenda – but that time is sacred – people are positively encouraged to call, FaceTime, meet for a drink. Having spent 15 years suffering from that environmental sickness that offices bring it is nothing short of liberating. And you know what – our clients want us to be with them not in our own office – and the result…we are agile, nimble and flexible and growing – next to die is the suit and tie…..

  9. Thanks Dave – what a brilliant comment that goes to heart of matter. Love to hear how it develops.

  10. Oh my!! Such a rich vein of debate here. My own view on this is that is does come down to Paul’s point “a failure by organisations to trust in people and take advantage of social technology,” coupled with a need to rethink organisational design and process reengineering.

    I have on many occasions had comments shared about being “too process driven” but it is this that helps to move us into different ways of thinking and doing things; but it needs to be created with the right links to technology, trust, culture, and the leadership model in place. Until there is a monumental shift in the leader dynamic from the old fashioned command and control to a collaborative, status free, matrix way of working, then the debate about the need for an office (in the traditional sense) will be a long one. Some leaders see the office as their status symbol and are loath to think of doing business in a different way. Presenteeism is still rife!

    I definitely believe in face to face communication to build trust, understanding and empathy. But my best face to face sessions are done in a more relaxed environment, normally Costa! So, I love the idea of recreating office spaces to areas of collaboration both for staff and customers.

    On the matter of reports, how many of us write reports for each other at an executive or board meeting? Why can’t we just have a conversation – face-to-face, through social media, over the phone, conference call – whatever works! The best outcomes are through creating a dialogue together and working out the solution through debate rather than in a report with all the (apparent) answers in it!

    The cost of office space in the current environment needs to be questioned, but this cannot be done in a culture of mistrust, presenteeism and outdated leadership styles.

  11. Fantastic comment Tracey. I was looking for a quote to begin my next post and I just found it:

    “Until there is a monumental shift in the leader dynamic from the old fashioned command and control to a collaborative, status free, matrix way of working, then the debate about the need for an office (in the traditional sense) will be a long one.”


  12. Have to say, I suspect the traditional corporate structure’s days are numbered too. Layers of management are useful (just) when you have relatively unempowered staff performing an easily quantifiable series of repetitive tasks. Process and procedure likewise. When people’s output and value depends on thinking, creativity and generating new ideas, those structures are as useful as fitting GPS to a homing pigeon.

    1. Thanks Mark and Tracey – perhaps the admittedly provocative title has led some to concentrate on the physical location rather than everything that comes with it.

      Possibly emails and meetings, together with outdated reporting and approval systems, are part of a wider hierarchical culture inconsistent with the onset of truly social business.

      1. I totally agree and changing things like offices, use of social media, endless meetings, reporting writing and dare I say “nonsense” appraisal and performance management systems need to be set against a different leadership context and culture.

        So few leaders at the top see the bigger picture and think that those of us that bang on about social media and blogs like yours are talking about the latest “fad” and it will simply pass.

        Whilst I believe in a different leadership model that is less about hierarchies and status, I do believe in that saying “fish rots from the head”.

        Don’t get me started about the bureaucracy! 😄

        1. Love the passion Tracey! If we could bottle that we might be able to make some truly significant change!

            1. Really enjoying this thread. Paul’s tactic of taking things to the extreme is a great way to stimulate a debate. I agree Tracey that this all has to start with a different leadership approach.
              But even more importantly when and why did you change your surname??

  13. I could not agree more! It’s so hard to get things done when there are distractions around. I have always loved doing work and homework at home. Also… The statistic on how much time we spend on email is painful.

    1. Thanks Meredith – and also people have argued against change! Some people just don’t see that there’s a problem here. Appreciate taking the time to add to debate.

  14. Reblogged this on The Creek Bed and commented:
    I have only a couple of things to add to this article.
    1) These statistics are from the UK, so imagine how the numbers would change if the study was for America, a place I have often heard called The Nation of Workaholics.
    2) How might we apply these statistics and the knowledge they give us to schools and the classrooms they contain?

  15. Thanks! Important point about making the link to education and the first person to do that. How could we avoid this scenario for the next generation entering work?

    1. In my experience a huge proportion of those in education, including those with a careers brief, are probably at least 20 years out of touch with workplace practices. It’s a big job to get them to catch up, let alone start thinking about the future of work.

  16. Meetings needn’t be a waste of time. If they are, it is the fault of the group. Firstly, the participants need to be empowered to make tactical decisions in each’s area of responsibility. The meeting lays out the strategy for a specific time period. Tasks are assigned. Chit-chat is kept to a minimum (as in zero). Everybody knows who is on which page. The participants disperse and enact their tasks. When people are empowered to make tactical decisions, strategic goals are met, and the meeting is an integral part of the process. A meeting periodically updates and coordinates tasks, and updates progress on reaching strategic objectives. But yes, many meetings are a waste of everyone’s time.

    1. I don’t disagree with a single thing you’ve said Karl – but I have to say I’ve hardly ever seen the model as you laid it out! But as you say – this is the fault of the group rather than the concept itself.

  17. I’ve worked from home for three years now and its great. No distractions, no lost commuting time, nice environment, flexible hours. Productivity way up. Tools like Lync and OneNote make it easy to communicate with fellow workers around the globe. Face to face meetings can be held anywhere whenever but honestly they’re over rated for effectiveness.

  18. I’ve worked from home for three years now and its great. No distractions, no lost commuting time, nice environment, flexible hours. Productivity way up. Tools like Lync and OneNote make it easy to communicate with fellow workers around the globe. Face to face meetings can be held anywhere when needed and tend to be productive because they’ve needed care to arrange. You have to be able to organise your time well and set goals each day so maybe its not for everyone, but if that’s you, you’ll love it.

    1. Thank you what a wonderful comment. It’s interesting your comment about face to face having more value when they’ve needed care to arrange. I think that’s spot on. Face to face has been devalued by the office by default.

  19. It is a great analysis but i have some points, hope not too misplaced.
    Surely creative breakthrough do not happen in the office, nevertheless not all we need to do is about being creative . Sometimes testing new drugs or testing a new manufacture process is right the opposite of being creative, it is being deconstructive. So creative is good but cannot , in my opinion, be left alone.
    The second is about commuting: what a great time , reading, listening or maybe just not doing anything. That is when ideas and images come to my mind freely , it is not a loss , it is qyite a great time and maybe a creative one too ( can’t say so of meetings, though ☺)

    1. I don’t think that’s a misplaced comment at all!

      I agree about your point about deconstructive work. The only thing I would say is that in most cases – the majority of public services for instance – most people don’t work that way!

      Also I think there is a space for creative work in an office as long as there is a dedicated space like an innovation lab.

      Good point about commuting too- dependent on your journey!

  20. You could probably say something about the health benefits of office work, too. Isn’t this why people have to plan to exercise? To have a gym schedule instead of playing sports, hiking, skiing, having sex–just how much of the modern condition is actually caused by the total inanity of daily life? Nearly all of it, maybe.

    1. Thanks for the comment – which apart from being true also made me laugh! The office as a negative effect on our sex lives. Love it

  21. Hello Paul. I worked from home for a few months while completing the development of our software solution. After that it was back to the office for me.

    It was wonderful and I achieved a huge amount in a short time. However, it was very difficult to differentiate between work time and family time.

    In my case I was popping into my study at all times of the night for a few minutes only to find myself still sitting there 2 hours later.

    For me the office away from home is the place where you conduct your business.

    1. Thanks Ryan this is a very good counter balance to some of the other points as well as mine. Perhaps I’m writing from a position of the office as default and some of the statistics reflect that too.

  22. Yes! Creativity does not happen between 9 and 5. In fact, there is something about the typical 9 – 5 routine that stifles creativity totally! Creativity flourishes with the artisans and those who dare to step out of their comfort zones and grab the bull by the horns!

    1. Thanks Joy – I think a lot of this is about stepping out of comfort zones – organisationally as well as personally,

      1. truth is too, Paul, that most employers don’t pay you to be creative. They pay you to fit into a mold and toe a safe, already set line perhaps because they themselves are not willing to embrace change and radical ideas! Look at publishers . . .so may follow trends and new ideas are often treated as unsafe.

  23. Time to float an idea and see who runs with it.

    The Public Sector Exchange. Like “Jelly” (http://www.uk-jelly.org.uk/) for public sector workers.

    Regular events (once a month, or more frequent if supported) when an organisation makes a space available for anyone to come in and work. No set agenda, just coffee and wifi on tap, sit where you like, talk to who you want. Just get your head down and concentrate outside the office, or collaborate with the person sat next to you, or the group on your table.

    Needs a sizeable space like a boardroom or an event space. Maybe get sponsorship to hire a venue, or persuade a local coffee shop to dedicate a few tables.

    Who’s in?

    1. Most are sourced in the links but you’ve just made me realise I’ve not credited the “creativity” one (which is Fast Co Create]. As with all these things there are plenty of conflicting stats and I’ve attempted to be balanced. Many say people spend just 6 hours a week in meetings although figures in the public sector inflate this a lot.

      Thanks for commenting

  24. This was a great read Paul, and I agree. I had a little disagreement at first but you cleared it up in the comments. Having face to face from time to time is a great thing but I agree that the default should not be offices in most cases.

    There are always exceptions and I don’t believe everyone could work from a home office all the time. But given the right infrastructure, trust and right employees it just makes the most sense to me.

    1. Thanks Sandy and maybe I did adopt an extreme stance to start but it’s provoked a healthy debate! Thanks for your very kind comments.

  25. Hear hear! I agree! Why can’t people work from home? I believe society will be happier and the planet will be healthier by not having so much pollution. The time spent commuting to and from work can be spent with your family or on yourself, like having time to exercise.

    1. Thanks Christina – if we take the average career that’s a year of your life we could spend with family or exercising or having fun! And studies show most people end up using that to do more productive work too.

      Everyone wins right?

      Thanks for commenting

    1. I certainly agree that , along with email, meetings are where the quickest wins lie in making efficiencies. Thanks for commenting

  26. This morning, I finally watched the Ted talk by Steven Johnson about the origin of ideas (http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_johnson_where_good_ideas_come_from). (Thank you journalists, bosses and Augustus for giving me some space to do some research and thinking…)

    For anyone who hasn’t read or watched Steven, he explains that there are no eureka! moments – innovation takes time and is the accumulation of half thoughts, accidental discoveries, chance encounters and so forth. He talks about the ‘slow churn’, the ‘liquid network’ and concludes that ‘chance favours the connected mind’.

    I thought of your post afterwards. I agree that technology can be used much better but we also need physcial spaces for face-to-face encounters. Steven Johnson starts his talk with the coffee houses of the 17th century, which imposed sobriety on a dissolute nation and, more importantly, got people talking. So, I love the idea of community hubs.

    Well done Paul on provoking such a big debate!

    1. Thanks Shaun – the promotion of offices (or whatever they become) as community and social spaces for collaboration is quite an exciting one and needs developing!

  27. I have to agree with the chart as it does fit to my thoughts pretty well. I guess eveyone is different, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve laid my head down to sleep and thought ‘Now thats a good idea’ unfortunately I tend to sleep quickly and even more annoying I usually forget that great idea 🙂

  28. If only we could all be so lucky to be able to get out of the office, even if only for a few hours a day. I agree with a good portion of your argument. My best ideas have come to me late in the night. Most of the solutions I’ve created were planned outside of the office and brought into the office once I gathered a rough draft.

    It would be difficult in some industries to use social media as a tool to get things done as some work needs supervision (not thaf there is not trust, it’s just the nature of the job).

    Great article.

  29. Great post and great discussion. As ryandan mentioned, when working at home it seems to be more difficult to separate between work time and free time. Isn’t this separation also important for creativity and productiveness? There’s something about getting up in the morning, getting dressed and going to work that helps one switch inner modes.
    When I work at home things seem to get a little jumbled up sometimes.

    In other words, I love your approach and I wonder, what about a framework? What about those time and space boundaries that help you ‘distinguish between’ and ‘focus on’; that provide you with a space to be freely creative in? (just some thoughts while taking a break from working in the middle of the night…)

    1. I think you’re on to something here. Why is that many people get best ideas going into or out of work? And what does this mean for creativity if we work home based by default. You’ve got me thinking now!

  30. Great blog Paul as always. For any doubters out there I cam definitely support much of what you have said by our own experience at Halton Housing Trust.

    The biggest problem any business faces in adopting a 21st century approach to how and where people work is presenteeism. Once you get past this and look at what people deliver rather than where they deliver it then you are halfway there.

    I also came across this fab animation earlier today which supports a whole chunk of what you have said too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G11t6XAIce0

  31. Well, yes and no! In a manufacturing set up, most office space still adds value. Yes, in the ideas business – software development, for instance – the line between personal and office space is already getting blurred!

    1. I’d venture that it goes beyond the ideas business. In a lot of offices I walk around I just see people in front of banks of desks! It’s time for a fundamental re-think of the office as default.

      Thanks for commenting

  32. Reblogged this on ericbrownspeaksout and commented:
    I found when I am home focused on client related research, I got it done faster, not just by a little, but but significantly. I would guess 30% of my time at work was impacted by my interest in knowing what everyone else was doing, things that found their way to my desk, and conversations or interruptions which I took on.

    But, this article was clearly focused on identifying other issues. And, they just made my day.

  33. Hiya Paul. I’ve been following this through the comments and have been fascinated by every one’s views. I should point out that I agree with everything that’s been said about making your work space work for you.

    I *hate* those ridiculous meetings where nothing gets decided and I’m actually very lucky that my work environment doesn’t have those issues.

    I’m also very lucky that ive got the freedom to make those decisions on where I work best. And not just on location – I won’t go to a meeting that I know won’t be productive.

    However, I suppose I just want to point out that I would define productivity in a slightly different way. Perhaps it is because of my job role, but I think building relationships is more than just collaborative working.

    For me, it’s more than getting the right people in a room to make decisions. Collaborative working requires something else for me personally (though I realise that is something that might be different for others). For me, it requires an understanding of how those I’m working with tick. And for me, I think that also involves things like having a chat about last night’s coronation st (well, it is manchester!) or lusting over a film star or discussing our latest attempts to shed half a stone (never successful). Our shared love of books, coffee and cake have actually fostered a productive working relationship. For example, our annual report last year was based on cake and had a recipe book attached. The idea came at a collaborative team meeting at Costa Coffee so that proves your point about getting out of the office. But it also came about because we all knew each other, based on two years of banal conversation across the office. The report was nominated for a TPAS award.

    A further point is that my team are now my friends. They came to my wedding last year and we frequently go for a pint. It’s become a running joke that I can drink two glasses and be anyone’s!

    Working with my friends means I give more to my work. I’m naturally not an organised person – I have a lot of ideas flitting round my head and I find I have to work hard to focus on one job. But knowing my friends are relying on me makes me more organised as I feel I would be letting them down if I didn’t sort things out.

    Finally I totally understand the importance of minimising distractions. There are times when people come over to my desk and I get quite frustrated and am constantly aware of the clock ticking. But relationship building is part of my job and I feel that I have to put as much effort into that as into *getting things done* because in the long term my relationships will hello me become more productive.

    So in short, I’m not disagreeing with your premise that we need to work smarter – but I would widen your definition of what is considered to be productive

    1. Hi Pamela, like you I’ve been follow the discussion here, which is fascinating. I absolutely agree that working with friends has so many bonuses. They go the extra mile, they support you, you have fun along the way when times get tough. My only word of watch out would be on the occasions when friend leave and it’s a bit like the first time you go on holiday with a friend – it’s a real test of the relationship 🙂

      Fundamentally, it’s about relationships 🙂

      1. Thanks both – and Pamela I really appreciate both of your perceptive comments.

        My own feeling is that whatever our thoughts about productivity and friendships – simple economics will win out.

        If you use our sector as an example, Housing Associations are sitting on office assets worth hundreds of millions. In a post grant/post digital world I simply can’t see how they won’t be sold to provide more homes and better services.

        But that’s not a bleak vision. The foundation of multi purpose team/community hubs where people come together to collaborate and do face time could herald a bright future for that thing we used to call the office.

  34. I thought I was just a whiner here in the US…but this is definitely correct. When I worked from my home office(in my home) I got at least 200% more done than I ever did in an office. Great post!

  35. Amen! Speaking as one who worked from home and got most inspired during random activities because of that flexibility I too think the office scheme needs to go. I’ve also researched upcoming generations and believe the trend and expectations of worklife are changing. It will be great to see what comes of it all.

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