The Modern Working Environment: Have We Become a Nation of Office-Phobes?

01/10/2013 11:50 BST | Updated 01/12/2013 10:12 GMT

There have been plenty of stories about the office of today. Some companies, most famously Yahoo!, say that people must work in an office. Other companies let their employees choose the best place to work from. Many tech companies have also recently taken stands on the office as we know it, and evangelise about how "work should be something we do, not somewhere we go". Still others claim the office will serve as more of a common meeting place for creativity and collaboration - not a place where people clock in, sit at desks and bash out emails. They make fair points; you should now be able to work from anywhere and travelling to send an email no longer makes sense.

That said, I believe there's a misconception that office working is no longer as productive or cost effective as mobile or remote working. As communications become increasingly intelligent, office environments are on the cusp of providing a richer, more fruitful technology experience than we can get remotely. In fact, I think we are set to become even more productive and collaborative in the office.

Here's why: just as technology was an enabler of remote and mobile working, new waves of technology innovation are set to revolutionise the way we think about, and use, office space. According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) the popularity of remote working and changes in employee working patterns are already influencing what businesses currently consider ideal office space - an open plan with less physical space required. Is that the office nirvana? It's certainly good for budgets, but even in cutting edge companies, employees frequently complain about the lack of privacy current open-plan models afford.

Over the next few years, emerging concepts like the 'internet of things', 'consumerisation of IT' and 'machine to machine communications' will catalyse further changes and possibilities, making the office more of a destination than it currently is today. While these terms are still largely industry buzz words, in the near future, they will become vital to the future of business. Technology and networks that are self-aware will become increasingly prevalent as the cost of the sensor technology which enables this reaches an all-time low.

In fact, Gartner predicts that we'll soon reach the point where it's cheaper to have a communications-enabled system than not. This will lead to a fundamental change in the way companies work - from new ways of developing technology, to better facilities management.

The impact of this on our daily places of work could be profound. Imagine a workspace that's aware of you as an individual - whether you're an employee, partner, customer or supplier. Imagine an office that recognises who is entering the building, what physical access they require, what devices they have with them, and what information they might need. What's more, this office knows your preferences for light, temperature and room type. It will alert you when someone who might be useful to a project you're working on enters the building; and even automatically set up a meeting with that person.

These are truly destined to be smart buildings.

Today, with workforces scattered across the world, we've become accustomed to working in ways that threaten detachment and a loss of rapport between employees. While communications tools have done wonders to plug the geographical void, many of them are optimised for information and data exchange and do little to engage employees or enable them to truly collaborate. Intelligent systems that not only personalise the office environment, but encourage employees to interact with colleagues who can boost productivity and creativity, will stimulate employee engagement and collaboration and play a role in re-establishing these eroding relationships.

Aside from improving how office space is used and the obvious benefits to employees, we're finding that integrating IT into facilities management and enabling buildings to monitor their own energy use and adjust accordingly can make a real difference to the bottom line. For example, one of our customers has seen a reduction in energy consumption of 32 per cent per year and a reduction in water use of 11 per cent per year since it started using communication, such as notifications, integrated with building management solutions.

So while the working from anywhere trend is here to stay, I would encourage those ready to dismiss the traditional office set-up as outdated to think more creatively about what it could offer. Sophisticated communications-enabled technologies are already transforming offices and businesses and employees alike will soon reap the benefits of more productive and collaborative environments.

And that's one moment you'll want to be in the office for.