What strikes me most about open-plan offices is that they're so incredibly retro. Huge office spaces with desks beside one another were all the rage in the mid-20th century.

The idea then, as now, was to allow management to tell--at a glance--who was working and who was not. And a big room crammed with people is less expensive than private offices.

The only difference now is that modern workspaces have computers rather than typewriters and are tricked out in egregious biz-blab about "collaboration" and "self-organizing teams."

Look, the entire point of the internet, email, social media, video conferencing, messaging, and groupware is to allow people to work together without being in the same room.

So why this weird fetish about having everyone together in the same physical space -- especially since cramming everyone together creates a noisy environment that is difficult to work in and offers an easy excuse to hold yet another agenda-less meeting?

The open-plan office is a step backward, so let's look at what the office of the future will really look like.

  1. Most business will be conducted online, using online tools, which is pretty much how its done today.
  2. Groupware, like Slack, will become easier to use and supplant many of the functions performed via email today.
  3. Face-to-face meetings, when necessary, will be conducted using video and, soon, in virtual reality.
  4. Virtual reality will be augmented with heads-up data about the person you're looking at, like name, role, background, etc.
  5. Languages will be automatically and seamlessly translated so that meetings won't be limited to a single language.
  6. Conversations will be automatically transcribed and summarized, thus rendering "meeting notes" and "minutes" obsolete.
  7. Using the above technology, organizations will disperse, allowing people to live wherever they feel comfortable.
  8. Companies will begin shuttering their offices, as Automattic, the makers of Wordpress, has.
  9. Huge corporate campuses--like Apple's new headquarters--will be abandoned, making Silicon Valley a Detroit-like wasteland.

The open-plan office is nothing but a speed bump in the inexorable transformations that technology is wreaking upon the business world.

Published on: Jun 24, 2017