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Overpriced Smart Cities vs. the Death of the Office

Recent research into the workplace of 2026 shows that even more people will be working outside the office, while the emptying buildings will become ever-more high-tech.

Although increased flexibility is supposedly ending the need for horrible commuting and crammed overpriced cities, more people are actually moving into urban areas and many services are becoming centralised.

To get some feedback on this and other apparent contradictions Crown Workspace spoke to IDG Connect and answered the following questions:

Most people agree that homeworking will be on the rise over the next decade. This should reduce commuter congestion and mean fewer people have to live in overcrowded, overpriced cities for work purposes. Yet more people are moving to urban centres and services appear to be getting centralised.  How does this square?

It’s not so much homeworking that is the issue – it is flexible or smart working. The new generation of talent expects it; they see the old days of arriving in an office at 9am and leaving at 5pm as something which is dated. What they want is an office which allows them to work from home or on the road when necessary.

Many are still drawn by city living, however, and London remains a magnet for people all over the world. So homeworking doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone working at home is doing so in the middle of the countryside.

The challenge for businesses is to provide space which makes working in the office or working flexible as seamless as possible. It’s something which many businesses are embracing because it has commercial benefits. Reducing the size of offices has huge financial savings in terms of business rates and heating, lighting etc. These days a company with 200 employees doesn’t need 200 desks. Workplace studies have shown that 40% of desk space simply isn’t used.

Even today, although there is a lot of talk about how people can work anywhere, a surprisingly large number still go into the office each day. (It almost feels like the previous myth that future tech would make work redundant.) What do you make of this?

You can’t change human nature. People still have a desire for companionship, to work together and meet colleagues. We’ve seen a kick-back from some of our clients, with companies realising the value of teamwork. They want to create a workspace which tempts people back into the office. Businesses are valuing face to face interaction and team play. They are realising you can’t build a team ethic when people are working at home and not in a team. However they also know that flexible working is key to attracting new talent. There’s a real possibility of missing out on graduate talent if you ask them to sit at the same desk every day from 9am to 5pm. Getting the balance right is so important.

Where do you think the distributed workforce live in the future? Cities/ small towns/ rural areas?

It’s a difficult question to answer because it depends as much on social and economic trends as on workplace trends. Flexible working does mean you can live wherever you like and still work for a city centre business. It also means that employers have a much wider scope when looking for talent. If the person you want lives in rural Wales then why should that stop you employing them? Smart working makes it possible. But does it change where people want to live? I’m not so sure about that.

What do you think this picture will look like globally?

Flexible working will boom most significantly in areas of the world where property prices are high – in Hong Kong or Singapore for instance. The benefits for businesses downsizing office space in these regions are huge.

Some people do seem more suited to a regular office environment – it allows them to compartmentalise their work – will they miss out in the future?

There will probably always be traditionalists who want to work 9 to 5, sit at the same desk every day and talk to the same people in their lunch break every day. We’re unlikely to see that die all together. But what flexible working does is provide everyone with an individually tailored option for the way they work. It should work for everyone.

What’s different to the old days is that workers are trusted more to work outside the office now.  There’s no such thing as a job for life so workers are assessed on their productivity, on how they meet deadlines and the volume of work they do – so the suspicion they would sit at home in their pyjamas and doing nothing all day has pretty much gone.


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