Sooner or later, we all grow up and need a space to work

The Recruiting Fellow
Mar 2 · 7 min read

So we just got to the end of a giant PR push about our new offices in NYC. This included a series of MTV Cribs style floor tours, a Google Maps Hack that allowed us to build a strong first-click impression, and pixel-perfect Virtual Tours that we could take to campus recruiting events to showcase our offices in VR headsets.

This got me thinking about the importance of space.

IDEO are known to employ smart people, and Tom Kelly is one of them. In his 2001 book, “The Art of Innovation” he said:

“Everyone knows the legend that innovation starts in a garage, but sooner or later we all grow up and need a place to work.

However the idea of a physical place to work is in danger of becoming a relic of the past. A distant memory. Quaint, even.

A remote manifesto

The office is outgrowing the cubicle. According to a 2017 report, the number of home-based workers in the US has doubled since 2005, to almost 3.9 million people. That’s a 115% increase in a decade.

Are you looking for a job in a remote-friendly organization? Companies who offer home based working options tend to prioritize what team members produce–not whether they’re in the same room at the same time. And they trust their people to do their best work even if no one’s looking over their shoulders.

How do you land a remote working job or a job in a company who formally support homeworking? Thanks to this helpful list put together by the people at Zapier, you can consider the 25+ companies at the link who have embraced the remote work option. They’re hiring for all kinds of positions — tech jobs, as well as roles in marketing, customer service, project management, and more. In this list you’ll find companies like the wonderful Articulate (eLearning), GitLab (Tech) who even have a remote manifesto, or Invision (Collaboration Tool) who helpfully describe how they built their remote team here.

This is by no means a US-only movement. In Japan, a country which is associated with very traditional notions of work (long hours, servitude, loyalty), there is a plan in the works to reduce traffic burden in the City ahead of the 2020 Olympics. Japan Airways and Shisheido, are two examples of firms who have taken up the idea, and the government are offering tax breaks to employers who adopt teleworking strategies. Apart from the obvious impact on traffic congestion, local supporters of the scheme note the other benefits of not being in the office, such as more time with the family, health benefits, greater worker productivity, and ultimately job satisfaction.

Given there are so many benefits of homeworking, why are we still cooping people up in offices?

Commuter Woes

Some of my least favorite places to commute include Mumbai, Jakarta, Beijing, Reading, and Manila. Actually the commuting in Mumbai is so bad my last employer had their office inside a hotel. A friend of mine from Beijing, Xia, who works in marketing, had to face a four hour daily commute from her place in Yanjiaozhen, way outside the 5th ring-road.

Jakarta (pictured) is one of the most notorious cities for congestion and jams, which deliver mega tonnes of acrid, polluting smoke skyward every single day. Although social carpooling apps like Grab have eased things a little, commuting is still a major headache.

Commuting is as unproductive a use of time as it gets. Why then, in our supposed sophistication, do we continue to subject ourselves to it?

The gig economy

When I worked at South East Asia’s dominant ride-hailing company, Grab, we hired a lot of people. We doubled the company headcount in under a year. But that’s nothing compared to the number of drivers (partners) we recruited. Grab claimed no less than 2 million drivers in South East Asia across, that’s up from 630,000 drivers in Feb 2017. So in about the time it takes to give birth to a human baby, Grab have taken on 1.4 million gig workers, none of whom have to work from an office.

Which companies are helping to shape the homeworking revolution? First there are the job and talent marketplaces. Upwork, founded in 1999, and funded to the tune of $168m, is adding 12,000 new freelancers every day. Fiverr, having banked more than $100m in funding, is a freelancer site where the services are most extraordinary. For instance, you can pay people to dance behind random strangers, to set fire to things that they own, or to read out video messages as Jesus. They list more than 3m ‘gigs’ at any one time in 100+ categories in 196 countries and traffic about 39m monthly visitors.

Re-imagining Workspace

Marriott created Workspace On Demand, which allows anyone to hire a space in the lobby of a Marriott hotel as easily as booking a room. Marriott began the program last year, as a pilot that used 35 hotels and 100 spaces. By the end of 2018, they plan to expand the program to 300 hotels.

The growing number of companies committed to re-imagining workspace include WeWork, General Assembly, and Neuehouse, all of which offer open, collaborative co-working spaces, complete with on-site amenities and frequent networking opportunities to inspire collaboration, innovation and creativity.

I wonder though, if these trendy shared spaces will empty out as fast as they flew into currency as more people work from home?

Virtual Reality may break the old routine

Have you ever tried a 5+ person Skype or Google Hangout? Talk about awkward. What makes it so awkward is the turn taking. With only a stuttering, blurry 2D box to reference, you miss most of the body language, which is according to science, about 93% of what matters when we communicate.

We use a platform called RoundMe to host our VR office tours.

Virtual Reality promises to overcome the issues of only capturing this 7% by putting us in new and immersive dimensions where everything in a virtual meeting is captured, including body-language.

At GroupM, we’ve already built pixel-perfect virtual representations of our office space in lower Manhattan. You can enjoy the tour of our offices here.

The next obvious step is to create interactive experiences within this virtual space. Meeting rooms in VR are becoming more acceptable, and are an upgrade from VOIP. They’re pretty dope, actually.

Whilst there are still some attitudinal and hardware hurdles to overcome, there’s certainly a lot to be excited about, and maybe it will be VR which eventually calls time on the traditional office.

We now use Skype and similar tools very naturally to collaborate, but video calling made lots of people uncomfortable. How long will it take us to get comfortable with business meetings in the virtual space?

The culture question

But what’s the impact on all-important company culture? It’s a conundrum, and corporate attitudes seem to change daily. As many companies continue to replace full-time staffers with freelancers and remote employees, others, like Yahoo, reversed their homeworking policies, saying such practices are greatly affecting culture and the ability to work through challenges through a team effort.

Ask yourself: What kind of culture do you want to create? If you think that teamwork and in-person collaboration is important to your culture, work-from-home policies might not be right for you.

But of course, there’s office politics. The corrosive gossiping and cliques that office environments breed arise from colleagues spending the majority of their waking hours cooped up with one another. On the other hand, not being in the office might be a missed opportunity for experiencing and ultimately buying into organizational culture.

As for productivity, Making sure everyone is measured and evaluated fairly and objectively is easier now, thanks to tech, and let’s employees know that it doesn’t matter where they are working, it matters how they are completing their tasks.

For our virtual team, we build and maintain community through Microsoft Teams, a great place to share sentiment, feedback, news updates and of course GIFs.

Conclusion

Homeworking is popular with workers and on the rise. However, it’s a complex question of culture, productivity, measurement and environmental opportunities to consider, before deciding on your policy and position.

Mobile app or portal driven employment and gig-work is on the rise and here to stay.

Governments are encouraging employers to experiment to reduce pollution and improve quality of life by implementing homeworking.

Commuting is generally soul-destroying and we have no good reason to keep doing it.

On-Demand offices are seeing investment driven growth, but may face challenges because the rise of homeworking.

What physical or virtual scene do you picture yourself working in, 10 years from now? Let me know what you imagined in the comments.

The Recruiting Fellow

Written by

Matchmaker. Advocate for good manners. Managing Partner for Talent Acquisition at GroupM North America. My other blog is www.talentbite.com