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How long will the traditional office survive?

February 1st, 2013
home office

Home office setups can be more sophisticated than those of most work offices.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans say they’d choose to work virtually if they could. But despite abundant Internet access and increasingly powerful mobile devices, more than half of Americans (53%) believe the concept of the traditional office will last at least another 50 years.

Americans who would choose to work exclusively in an office over working virtually would value the superior discipline, connectedness and information security the traditional office provides.

These are among the top findings in a recent survey of 2,512 American adults conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of Ricoh Americas Corporation, a leading provider of business information solutions.

Fear of irrelevance?

Americans were asked to choose between working exclusively virtually (from home, coffee shop, library, etc.) or exclusively in an office. In citing specific advantages of the traditional office, workers were expressing a fear of irrelevance that virtual work can engender.

“Virtual office technology has not yet caught up to employees’ fears that they may become irrelevant if they’re not perceived as being fully engaged with the traditional office,” said Terrie Campbell , Vice President, Strategic Marketing at Ricoh Americas Corporation.

“While mobility is a signature of the new workforce, workers know they need to seamlessly collaborate with colleagues and superiors to demonstrate their ongoing value, especially in the current economic climate. Although the world is making significant advances in videoconferencing and information management, there’s no perfect substitute yet for meaningful face time. But innovation is moving at unprecedented speeds in this area, and progress will come.”

home office

A high tech home office.

Personally, I’ve worked from a home office for the majority of the last 13 years, but writers and editors can be significantly more productive outside of a traditional office environment. Social distractions do not help a writer stay in the zone when working – whether writing, editing or doing research.

It does require discipline. You have to be at your desk just as much as you would be in a traditional office. And to make it work well, it helps to have an actual home office with a door you can close and sophisticated equipment. I’ve been using dual monitors in my home office from 2000 on and did not have those in any of my brief stints in traditional offices.

Working virtually has advantages beyond productivity and the lack of a dress code, though. It saves on the use of fossil fuels and reduces their environmental consequence, eliminates the time and stress of commuting, and slashes the time used for meetings and water-cooler chat in offices.  (TechJournal Editor Allan Maurer).

The generational paradox
RWhen Americans who chose the office were asked why they preferred it over working virtually:

  • 66% said they would be more disciplined and productive there.
  • 51% said they would want to socialize with colleagues.
  • And 39% said they would feel more secure about accessing, scanning, storing and printing information from an office.

Surprisingly, younger people seem to be the least enthusiastic about working virtually. In fact, 18-to-34-year-olds were the age group most likely to prefer working in an office (43% of them chose the office vs. 31% of those age 35-54 and 36% of those age 55+).

Areas for improvement
Meanwhile, two-thirds (67%) of employed adults feel dissatisfied about something in their current work situation, including the inability to get the information they need in a timely manner (18%); the organization being out of date with the latest technology trends (14%); too much paperwork (14%); and failure of co-workers to use technology tools to their full potential (12%).

“Although this dissatisfaction isn’t great news, it’s good that so many American workers appear devoted to improving their personal and organizational performance through better processes and technology,” said Campbell. “At Ricoh, we provide aBusiness Information Solutions approach to helping organizations and their employees collaborate more closely and productively whether they are working from home, a hotel room, their traditional office or all of the above.”

In fact, Ricoh has empowered its own employees to “go BYOD” (bring your own device). They can use any smart phone or tablet they wish to connect remotely with important sales, service and administrative applications. Ricoh has also propagated policies and controls across all of these devices, maintaining the ability to wipe them clean if an employee leaves.

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