Traditional "office culture" is full of so many common tropes, characteristics, and practices that even offices across the country and in totally different industries are virtually identical. Office culture is the subject of everything from stock photography to pop culture parodies, and it's a subject of dread for many office workers tired of the same culture that's been around for decades.
In what many would argue is a fortunate turn of events, many of these long-held office fundamentals are starting to become obsolete. Thanks in part to the rising capabilities of new technologies and in part due to paradigm shifts from Silicon Valley and "startup culture," the basic idea of an "office" is starting to morph, and these seven familiar tenets are beginning to disappear entirely:
1. The 9-5 Workday. Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 jobs are starting to disappear. Our focus is starting to shift from a focus on number of hours worked to a focus on amount of work done. Because workloads are dynamic and personal schedules are hectic, it only makes sense that workers should be allowed some flexibility in how they approach their work--as long as the work gets done. More and more offices are allowing flex-time, an ambiguously defined approach that gives workers the ability to set their own schedules and work whatever hours they deem necessary to complete their assigned tasks. Add in the growing number of companies who are using freelancers and part-timers to accomplish work, and the death of the 9-5 workday is all but inevitable.
2. Cubicles. Cubicles were once an iconic staple of the average American office. Today, they're starting to become obsolete. Open environments, with fewer walls and more opportunities for workers to engage with one another, are starting to become the norm. CEOs are stepping outside of their offices, and team members are collaborating in close quarters to achieve more together. Cubicles have long been associated with a sense of deprivation of freedom, and while they do give workers a degree of privacy, they also establish the idea that each worker is exclusively an individual, rather than a part of a greater whole.
3. Suits and Ties. Dress codes are becoming looser by the day. Suits and ties will likely be a permanent fixture for some businesses and for some individual positions, but for the most part, companies are allowing more flexible attire. Conservative companies are allowing business casual on some days, average companies are resorting to a full business casual dress code, and many young companies and startups are following an anything-goes rule, hoping the freedom of dress encourages more independent thinking and more forms of innovation throughout the office. In any case, suits and ties are becoming less mandatory throughout the country.
4. Meetings. Meetings are rarely as productive as we like to think they are, and more entrepreneurs are starting to realize it. Understanding the potential loss of productivity associated with bringing the entire team together for an hour and having access to more forms of convenient communications technology, in-person meetings are becoming old fashioned. Instead of calling together team huddles, managers are using team chats, group emails, and short office announcements to get the job done.
5. Hierarchal Management. Companies were once able to be broken down into a visual pyramid of high-level managers, mid-level managers, low-level managers, and all other workers. The ranking system was almost militaristic, with each person either responsible for a group of people underneath them, responsible to a person above them, or some combination of the two. This form of hierarchal management is still in place, but only in a minimalistic context--the CEO makes all the final decisions, and there might be a few supervisory positions remaining, but for the most part, workplaces are starting to allow more independence and more autonomy. Businesses would rather hire one self-starter capable of managing him/herself than one decent worker and one supervisor to keep an eye on him/her.
6. Workspaces. Thanks to the increasing power of technology, conventional workspaces are evolving. What once required a desk full of office supplies, a file cabinet for storage, a large space for a desktop computer, and plenty of writing space can now be replaced with a small desk and a tablet. We don't need much space to be effective, nor do we need much in the way of fancy office supplies. In fact, most of us are used to working on the go. As a result, our desks and workspaces are becoming more minimalistic.
7. Offices. It's the one thing that all office cultures have in common today--the office. It was once the place where everyone came together, every day, to work together, but that's starting to change. Now, more people are working remotely, from home, from coffee shops, and from collaborative work spaces set up in major cities. They're using conference lines instead of conference rooms, and they're standing in line at Starbucks instead of at the water cooler. Offices are still important and still heavily used by most companies, but their importance is starting to fade.
It will be years, and maybe even decades before the majority of offices are willing to fully part with these institutions, but even in the short term, the change will be positive for managers and employees alike. A greater diversity in office culture means more people will be able to find jobs where they truly feel a cultural fit, and that means greater overall productivity, greater employee retention, and of course, greater levels of happiness and satisfaction throughout.
As our office culture continues to change, I would encourage you to embrace these changes and allow your business to help shape the future of our country's workplace values.