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Work is much more than being tied to an office

Has the death knell sounded for the corporate office? According to Forrester Research, some employees never see the inside of their office anymore. Its 2012 ‘Workforce Employee Survey’ found that in 2010 everybody worked at least once per week in a corporate office, but by 2012 this had fallen to 89 per cent.

In its place, home working was rising rapidly, with 27 per cent of employees working at home at least one day a week in 2012, up from 18 per cent.

And a senior executive at Microsoft at recent event in London said: “We need to reclaim the word work: it’s something you do, not somewhere you go to.”

But not everyone agrees; Google’s plans for its new European headquarters in London clearly demonstrates that even enlightened tech leaders think there is life left in the old corporate office. In fact you can find a number of staunch office backers in the tech industry, such as Yahoo’s CEO Merissa Meyer who banned home working in early 2013. Meyer claims her initiative has had the desired effect of improving staff collaboration and morale.

Collaborate or die? Of course, Google gives you more than an office cubicle and has designed a space that it hopes will attract employees to the corporate office. This includes a cycle parking area, 19 cafés, a bowling alley, volleyball courts and two open-air swimming pools. So perhaps companies like Google need as much space as companies traditionally used to have, but just need to use it differently.

Is the Middle East any different? Possibly not.

Recent research in the Middle East by Regus suggests that flexible working is an attractive employment ‘perk’ that helps in recruitment and reduces expensive staff turnover, while breaking the chain to the office desk (and desktop computer) also helps reduce stress and balances work and life.

Essentially everyone is trying to achieve the same thing — to get employees together to collaborate. Not everyone can work in an innovative £1 billion headquarters like Google’s but wherever you choose to work, the requirement for collaboration doesn’t go away. The good thing about technology is you can take your workspace with you into an innovative environment. The same Forrester survey found that 12 per cent of employees worked in a public site in 2012, compared to 5 per cent in 2010.

The key to helping employees successfully collaborate wherever they are is to provide them with the appropriate digital tools. They need to be able to access corporate resources securely on any device from any location using cloud, mobile devices and ubiquitous connectivity.

There is a widespread realisation that the employee workforce is changing, and technology must adapt to answer the needs of users. It has been driven by four main causes: consumerization, BYOD-mobility hype, cloud-services availability and the growing importance of B2B social media.

Look at the enduring popularity of hotel lobbies for meetings. Hotel chains now have a range of programmes, such as ‘Workspace on Demand’ from Marriot and Tangent from Westin Hotels, to formalise the ‘working from the hotel’ experience and offer meeting rooms for hire to support group collaboration.

There has also been an increase in co-working spaces globally, where members can come and work in a shared environment. These spaces attract start-ups and freelancers in an environment that encourages innovation. Examples include Google’s Campus and Techspace in London’s Silicon Roundabout.

Employees can tap into this innovative atmosphere by using the space themselves. According to the Co-Working Survey by Deskmag, 24 per cent of co-workers are actually company employees. Co-workers in the survey claim that being in the space helps them be creative, come up with business ideas, improve focus, be more productive and have a better standard of work.

All of these different approaches show the variety of ways that employees and companies can refresh their working environment — wherever they choose to work. Best of all is that with the new workspace you can improve collaboration (anywhere, any time, any device) without having to build a brand new office or ban employees from working from home.

The writer is country manager Saudi Arabia, Orange Business Services, and Managing Director of Orange Business Arabia.