There’s a piece by Andrew Hill in the FT today highlighting what, I think, has been reasonably well-understood for a long time. Professionals (It’s an FT audience – I’m not sure that the vast majority of workers fit into this world of flexibility and mobility) are more mobile and flexible. He identifies the role of the office as a “social headquarters”.
Increasing numbers of workers can choose where they do their research, assemble their spreadsheets or write their columns. This shift brings closer to reality the decades-old prediction that businesses will have to try harder to attract staff to a central hub — a social headquarters — where they can connect and collaborate with colleagues face to face.
Academics have been able to come and go largely as they please for generations. In my experience, new technology has largely meant that they go. Although this is really anecdotal, I’d say that they tend to live further away (some have their main residence abroad), come into the office less and work with others outside the organisation to a greater extent. This has the benefit of increasing the potential staff base – but you see less of them. I’d agree with Andrew Hill’s final remarks…
…at a time of short tenure, loose ties and flexi-working, carefully conceived headquarters can be the cement that underpins and binds a fragile corporate culture.
However, whilst there’s really good reasons to work in the same space (common purpose, motivation, innovation and learning etc) there seem to be fairly powerful centrifugal forces from the office as well – if you’re lucky enough to be part of the minority that have the choice.