Technology and the changing face of the workplace

By: Mark Ellis

Date: 4 March 2019

Evolution of the office working in a cafe with just a mac book and an iPhoneI really hadn’t given it much thought until I saw this brilliant infographic on the evolution of the office from British Gas business. But, boy has the workplace changed!

Relatively speaking, I’ve only occupied a relatively small slice of the infographic’s timeline, but from the late 90s to the present day, I now realise I’ve experienced three office phases.

Phase one: semi-captivity

Don’t get me wrong - I’ve never literally been held captive at work, but looking back at the time I spent in my first proper office job, there was very little room for personal growth.

I learned my trade in an office environment that relied on staff being situated within the building from the moment the lights were switched on until the clock reached 5:30pm. This was largely due to the nature of the business, but, looking back, almost solely because the work couldn’t be undertaken remotely.

As soon as you left the office, you lost connection with the team and had no access to email or the systems on which we relied each day. It was restrictive and ultimately exhausted my creativity.

Phase two: almost the right mix

My second phase of the office was one of both exciting discovery and frustration.

The internet had long since been embedded within the workplace and with broadband speeds beginning to proliferate, the ability to get work done away from your desk (and, indeed, the building itself) was becoming a ‘thing’.

I recall trialling a number of PDAs and early smartphones and realising that having access to email outside of the office and, when required, a tethered internet connection for my laptop was transformative; it excited me.

Although the technology often made remote work difficult due to poor batteries, slow mobile connections and the absence of cloud computing, it was at this time that I started to develop a much clearer idea of how I wanted to work in the future.

This was an idea that would eventually come to fruition in phase three.

Phase three: a productivity haven

I now work almost exclusively from my home office, but I also know that at any point I can up-sticks, leave the house and work somewhere else.

Phase three of the office evolution has completely transformed the way I work. It has freed me to work where and whenever I like and, most importantly, without any restrictions or concessions.

This is largely down to two things:

  1. Cloud computing: Every software tool I use is now available everywhere, is device agnostic and cost-effective enough to give me access to platforms that would once have been prohibitively expensive.
  2. Mobile devices: I can now just about achieve the same level of work on my smartphone as my laptop. That’s revolutionary.

I do miss elements of the traditional office; the strict hours at least offered a focused period of work, and the inability to work anywhere else meant a close community developed within the four walls of the business.

In the digital economy, however, we still benefit from these aspects - we just have the option of swapping face-to-face contact for Skype and hours when we feel unproductive for those during which we can do our best work.

Where next?

I’m super-excited about the next phase of the office. We’re now firmly in a world where the office is almost an ethereal concept; it no longer describes a specific building, and it’s just as at home in software as it is surrounded by bricks and mortar.

Thanks to digital transformation and an increasing focus on sustainability and environmental impact on behalf of businesses, I expect working from home and flexible working patterns to become the norm. One day, we’ll all be working from anywhere!