The Remote Worker and the Future of the Office

Written by Neil Binalla

“Why are you using three gadgets at the same time?” I asked my son one evening out of curiosity. He was using a laptop, and iPad, and a mobile phone.

“I’m doing a school group project,” he said. My son is a high school junior. The laptop was for research and documentation for the portion assigned to him. The iPad was used to communicate with the rest of his group using various collaboration apps. And the mobile phone? It was for texting, listening to music, and playing games (during study breaks, I hope).

He was doing a lot of things, all at the same time. What struck me was when he asked a group mate to show himself at random intervals on a video chat app to ensure that no one was sleeping and the entire group was actively doing their assigned tasks.

As I observed him, I asked, “Is this the normal way you do a group project? Who taught you to use these technology tools? Why don’t you just meet your group in school and do the project there?”

My son eyeballed me like I was crazy. Or old. “Dad, there’s no difference if we do it in school. At home, we’re all available to work on our project. It’s more difficult to gather my group mates after classes since some of us ride a school bus and others have their own cars. And we taught ourselves to use these apps. It’s easy.”

I suppose he was telling me that they can’t control their own time and have various limitations. That made me wonder how work will change in the very near future since the next generation of workers are now behaving this way.

Why do we need to work in an office? Can we not get the job done without it? What is the real purpose of an office? Do we really need to commute daily just to reach a physical space on time in the midst of worsening traffic conditions?

In my opinion, a traditional office — aside from lowering transaction cost — used to be a gathering place to collaborate and communicate easily with customers, using tools that were available only at the workplace such as, but not limited to, computers, software and applications, printers and copying machines. A conference room for meetings. But nowadays, technology can allow us to do all these without being in an office.

My teenage son found a way to manage his school group to make sure everyone was awake, active, and focused on the task at hand. Relating this to an advanced scenario of an office set up, we can leverage the use of available technology, like a device that can detect if you are looking at your monitor, if the device is active, and if the person is working, by means of biometrics. There are collaboration applications that make users feel like they are actually next to their co-workers in a conference room. The presence of Cloud or Internet of Things (IoT) replaces previous software that can only be accessed in the office’s local area network.

Working remotely or virtually is available nowadays yet it is not being maximized. Are we afraid of change? Are we not ready to align the infrastructure and policies to accommodate a virtual environment? Are we going to stick out the increasing rental rates of workspaces? Why not shift this rental cost to a more digitally-enabled company?

A company may employ a digitally-enabled enterprise strategy to further reduce transaction cost while improving employees’ user work experience for productivity purposes. It may be a vehicle used to expand geographically without a need to put up offices elsewhere, not to mention an effective tool to tap great talents elsewhere without the need to travel and migrate to where the office is.

We may not totally get rid of the office space for now. But we can limit the space for selective tasks while assigning other tasks to a digitally-enabled enterprise where employees may learn to work in the office of the future: a borderless sociable environment.

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About the author:

Neil Binalla is the Finance Controller and Director of John Clements Consultants, Inc. He has been with the company for 15 years. Prior to John Clements, Neil worked at PLDT and SGV & Co. He is a BS Accountancy graduate of the Philippine School of Business Administration.