Digital office advocates have long championed the benefits of virtual work. It saves costs, reduces environmental footprint and fosters employee autonomy – if managed correctly. Transport for London positively begged businesses to try telecommuting in order to avoid overcrowding during the 2012 Games. That got me thinking about the purpose of the office and how much of our work can be ‘digitized’ now. Here are just some of my ideas:
1. The office
Work virtually or using hubs and co-working spaces such as Basecamp.
2. The copier
Use a printer/scanner instead.
3. Marketing brochures
Use online newsletters, QR codes, websites and mobile apps for promotions.
4. Desktop computers
Modern laptops are fast and powerful and some even have detachable keyboards and stands, which make them just as convenient.
5. Reception, admin staff and PAs
Use virtual office phone systems and PAs, or pay-per-use ‘gophers’ to organize your life and answer your calls.
Cloud-based hosting is cheap and reliable. Check out Office365, for example.
7. Filing cabinets
Scan and store documents online using services like Dropbox.
8. Stockrooms and inventory
Manufacture to order or using 3D printing.
9. Conference rooms
Use videoconferencing tools and webinars for virtual gatherings. Check out HP Virtual Rooms.
Enterprise social networks are fast evolving so that even social exchanges can be digitized.
Some might argue that it’s possible to ‘dematerialise’ people, too. Small businesses already crowdsource inventions and outsource their accountancy and HR admin to cloud services. But there are still people doing the work – just in a different work environment. As firms such as LiveOps or 37Signals demonstrate, being lean doesn’t require companies to be mean with employment. Nor is this to say the office is entirely useless – its transformation is the subject of a new book by Paul Miller, founder of the Digital Workplace Forum. Encouragingly, dropping into the office may even become a bit of an event.