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Offices enter a virtual era

The days of commuting to sit at a desk will soon be regarded as very outdated

Gulf News

Dubai: There is no doubt the workplace has evolved immensely. Over the years, new tech tools and applications have replaced the old-fashioned paper filing system, including the mail boy who used to physically distribute memos.

Studies show that the office environment, including the way employees work, will evolve further. One of the major changes to look forward to is that in less than a decade, the use of newer tools called "collaborative technologies" will be far more common and consequently replace the old-fashioned desk phone, printer or meeting room.

A study by Johnson Controls Global Workplace Solutions (GWS) which collated results from 1,700 respondents from seven countries shows that by 2020, office workers will be spending more time using interactive digital screens, touch surfaces and live video streaming from locations around the world. Ultimately, workers will shift to working with "virtual teams" and spend less time at their desks, in their cubicle or on the phone. "There is no doubt that we are leaving the era of the static desk and are moving into one of mobile technologies. The demand for desk phones, printers and traditional meeting rooms is declining. The use of collaborative technologies, such as web conferencing, video conferencing will be far more prevalent," says Marie Puybaraud of Global WorkPlace Innovation, Johnson Controls GWS' research arm.

High interaction

She says new technologies enable a high level of interaction among individuals and teams, a faster processing of data, retrieval of knowledge, real-time sharing capabilities and data capturing. "This can't be compared to how we worked only a few years ago."

"Most employees will be able to perform many of their daily tasks at home or elsewhere, so the future purpose of the office will be able to provide an environment that allows employees to add significant value through new business processes that are empowered by collaboration."

"Enlightened organisations will increasingly define objectives and allow their employees to choose the most effective way to deliver them, rather than count the number of hours they spend at a desk."

"Very soon, the days of expecting employees to commute to simply sit at a computer will be seen as very outdated."

However, there are opposing views as to how the office would evolve and whether working virtually is actually the way to go. A white paper by the American Business Media reviewed the pros and cons of telecommuting. For the employee, the major drawback would be lack of social interaction. There is also a tendency for the office space at home to interfere with the family living space.

On the part of the employer, there is less management interaction, potential lapses in communication, work delays due to office equipment service needs, among others. "While the employee usually enjoys less stress outside of the working environment, the manager's ability to interact with the employee may be weakened," the report said.