Thirty years ago the first wireless office phones came on to the market. Philip Stone and Robert Luchetti wrote an article in Harvard Business Review about how they would change the workplace because people would no longer be tied to a desk; they titled it Your office is where you are. In 1985, they predicted that the office would become a "home base" with work actually being done in "the car, a restaurant, the client's office, hotels, airport lounges or even the aeroplane." Ever since I read it, I have been following the changes in the way we work; as more and more work functions became possible on our smartphones, I revised their title to Your office is in your pants. In the post As baby boomers retire, millennials fill the gap, I noted the trends that were already already happening:
- Our tools are going mobile;
- Sitting at a desk is considered a death sentence;
- A third of us are working freelance;
- The boomers are checking out and a whole wired new generation is checking in, on their phones of course.
I concluded that "It's a whole new world. The big question is how long it will take our cities, buildings, workplaces and managers to adapt." And I didn't even have the rise of the robots in that list. It's a subject I have looked at a number of times in 2015, and a position that many disagree with:
Are we really turning into Freelance Nation?
Maybe someday I'll get a desk job in a real newsroom. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)
It's a controversial issue, and this year there was a lot of push-back. The very next day after I wrote that piece, an economist published an article that questioned whether it was even true that we were moving to more of a freelance model, the gig economy. He claimed that it was a "phenomenon on the margins of the labor market." Of course I disagreed, noting: "Perhaps we shouldn't call it Freelance Nation. Perhaps it should be Subcontractor Nation. But the working world has definitely changed." (Read more: Are we really turning into Freelance Nation? Then there were those who questioned the whole idea of working from home:
Telecommuting isn't for everyone (or every job)
Here's a surprise: a new study says that working from home doesn't work if you're a waitress or a forklift driver. It also doesn't work for some people, those who don't have the right personality for it or who don't the conditions at home to make it possible. But it's not, as one writer put it, "official" that it's "the worst." In fact, the study noted that "Telecommuting arrangements bring to the forefront the notion that work is no longer a place but what you do, and new ways of working are likely to continue." (Read more: Telecommuting isn't for everyone (or every job)) And if that isn't enough complaining, even the standing desk came under fire:
Don't pack away that standing desk yet
Really, there has been a lot of hype about standing desks and how they are supposedly killing us. As Jenn put it: Stop worrying about sitting. Sitting is not the new smoking. It's not even the new chewing gum. However I had a look at the study that everyone was talking about, and I had a couple of issues with it. Because even the people who invented the standing desk didn't think it was about standing; it was about movement. (Read more: Don't pack away that standing desk yet) And the desk is dead anyway, so in the end it doesn't matter. Here's why:
How 'hot desking' is changing how you work
In fact, you won't have a desk to call your own at all; you'll find a place to work that suits the task you're doing, like in this office. "Workspaces are based on your schedule: sitting desk, standing desk, work booth, meeting room, balcony seat, or “concentration room.” (Read more: How 'hot desking' is changing how you work) That office building looks like a hotel lobby, but it will more likely look like a coffee shop:
Why the office of the future will be like a coffee shop
It seems that millennials are workers who:
- want to be part of their community and have a better work/life balance,
- want more flexibility in work hours and location,
- also want to retain the ability to have real face time with their managers and co-workers.
You get together when you want or need to talk, hang out if you want to be seen, but otherwise generally work where and when you want. This sounds familiar — like a coffee shop. (Read more: Why the office of the future will be like a coffee shop) And in fact, the actual company-owned and run office might disappear altogether:
Coworking is disrupting the traditional office
Coworking started as a way for freelancers to get out of the house and the coffee shop. However it has seriously evolved, and larger companies are using coworking spaces as a way of reducing costs and to give their employees greater resources, from yoga classes to food to showers.
Most offices used to be about fixed land lines and receptionists and file cabinets, all of which have pretty much gone away. So where coworking used to be for the independent worker, it's now for everyone from startups to bigger corporations. I suspect that there's a lot more disruption yet to come.
(Read more: Coworking is disrupting the traditional office) Of course, the bigger question is whether we will have jobs at all:
Will a robot take your job?
A study looks at what attributes humans have that will be difficult to replace with robots, and concludes that jobs that require empathy and interaction with people, like nurses and social workers, are pretty safe. It appears that love counsellors, yoga instructors and therapists have a future. The rest of us will see you in the yoga class. (Read more: Will a robot take your job?) And really, not even the fancy-pants professionals are safe:
Doctors and lawyers: Computers are coming for your jobs, too
In the last post on robots taking all the jobs, the top professionals were considered pretty safe. But they really aren't; the whole concept of professionalism is going out the window.
Ultimately most self-regulating professions do their best to keep their numbers low, their salaries high and to keep the upstarts out. That may have been relatively easy before, but not in the Internet age where everyone has access to knowledge, where professionals are rated by their customers and patients, where computers like Watson are doing diagnoses, and where computers are actually doing a better job of finding information.
(Read more: Doctors and lawyers: Computers are coming for your jobs, too) And given how cool this robot is, they might well be doing major surgery all on their own.
Industrial robot slices and dices like a samurai
It's impressive, this MOTOMAN robot, but also a demonstration of the robot’s limitations. It takes a lot of careful analysis and programming to teach that arm what to do. Other robots may not be as impressive to look at, but they are learning how to learn, to think for themselves. One named BRETT has artificial intelligence.
MOTOMAN is scary fast, but you just have to move out of the way. However, it will be time for humans to head for the hills when somebody gives BRETT a samurai sword. Then we're in real trouble.
(Read more: Industrial robot slices and dices like a samurai) See more office and work stories that didn't make it into this roundup below, and there will be lots more excitement in 2016!