On Monday we asked you about the workplace of the future – today, it’s time to take a look at your comments. The biggest theme was remote work – several of you expect the workplace to be increasingly virtualized. Others suggested a few problems with this idea. “Swarming,” as Gartner called it, was also seen as important – for better or worse. And could the workplace start to be more of a “FunPlace”?


CitizenSpace in San Francisco. Is this what the future of the workplace looks like?

Remote Control

The first commenter, Martin, kicked it off by saying “People will just work from home. Homes will be built with cabinets, or people will buy wooden modeules and install them in their gardens. Commuting, and paying rents for office space just does not scale.”

Many people echoed that sentiment. One reader suggested companies could give “work from home” bonuses to employees. And although there are many jobs that just can’t done from home – like road construction, emergency room staff and delivery – there’s obviously a huge interest in telecommuting. According to telework web site Undress for Success 40% of workers have jobs that can be done from home (it’s not clear if that’s just in the US or if it’s both the US and Japan).

Of course, there are a few problems with this idea. Jackie Thorpe Ewing commented:

I don’t believe all workers will work from home. Some folks just cannot function that way. They need the routine of getting somewhere and doing something specific. Those folks are necessary to the future work place. If everyone works remotely, where is the synergy, where is the idea bouncing. Humans need the contact to liberate ideas. Video conference, Skype – they cannot replace human interaction.

While many of the tasks can certainly be done remotely, I believe there will always be a need for face-to-face communication on some level.

I think that’s a pretty common sentiment – one that has enabled the rise of co-working spaces such as Citizen Space in San Francisco and NedSpace in Portland. These sorts of spaces are popular among freelancers and startups – are there many people working for large organizations utilizing these types of spaces?

Another draw back pointed out by one commenter:

Everyone seems so convinced telecommuting will be the predominant mode of working. I can tell you as a manager, I just don’t trust the productivity levels for when people work from home, and I know our CEO agrees with that. So, yes, cost-wise and time-wise, it is inefficient for society, productivity-wise, it’s not.

So I don’t think the percentage of telecommuting increases from here. Has anyone seen stats on it over the past couple of decades? It would be interesting to see if it has plateaued.

Looking at the stats on Undress for Success, it appears that the rates of telecommuting have been going up, with growth having slowed down between 2006-2008 – but they don’t have more recent data up.

Personally, I think results based compensation will also become more common as organizations try to squeeze as much ROI out of employees as possible and replace full time, salaried employees with contractors. On the other hand, I think people have been predicting this since at least 1984 when the first edition of The Way of the Ronin was released (and I wouldn’t be surprised is Alvin Toffler or Peter Drucker were talking it even earlier).

Drone Swarms

Autom Tagsa wrote us by e-mail to say:

As the recession ensues, work force headcount becomes a critical factor in ensuring healthy bottom lines. What we may see evident in the immediate is a temporary deconstruction of traditional work roles and profiles, wherein the “leaner team” is composed of workers each wearing multiple hats and becoming quite adept at performing tasks outside of their core competencies partly as a result of ‘swarmed’ initiatives (per Gartner) and spontaneous, autonomous work habits. The long-term impact of this trend may yield a more knowledgeable workforce constantly aggregating and fine tuning skills as a function of the need to truly multitask efficiently.

Insects are specialists, so I’m not sure if the “swarm” metaphor applies well. On the one hand, more generalist work sounds appealing. On the other, it sounds like an extraordinary amount of additional pressure for each employee.

Someone at BarCamp Portland 2009 suggested that business process outsourcing could be taken to its logical extreme: literally outsourcing entire companies. Teams of employees would work together juggling projects for multiple companies.

On Brighter Note

Jeff Walters shared a more optimistic view of swarming, suggesting that the practice will transform workplaces into FunPlaces as workers use social media to connect and engage in work that’s more meaningful to them:

Example: A team working on how to improve the total experience for casino guests will come together in the casino to train, work, observe and then create a solution. They’ll complete part of the solution elsewhere, of course, working from the team leader’s shared “FunPlace” or home.

Example 2: A team working on a new distance learning app for university level studies will go to schools of students not yet in universities (high schools in the US), plus homes and communities where prospective students can be gathered to experience new forms of online education (a.k.a. = “games”) that are engaging, effective and that simulate working in “FunPlaces.”

Example 3: A team working on a new city development project will “camp” at the development site over the course of several days or weeks to live/design/architect the ideal 24×7 architecture and solution for a mixed use development (living, retail, “FunSpace,” and entertainment).

Coming together physically will be for “fun” and physical/social connections or “workers” will find new gigs only a click away.