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The Evolution of the Office Building

The Evolution of the Office Building
Reuters

Changes in technology and peoples' preferences are transforming how and where we work. As a new white paper [PDF] suggests, shifts in usage and physical locations of offices are going to dramatically affect the shape of cities in the near future.

Published by the business communications provider Mitel, the paper argues that technologies enabling people to work without relying on a physical space will shake up the traditional office real estate market. Instead of businesses owning or occupying large office buildings, more companies wile likely to shift towards shared work centers available as needed for tasks best achieved when people are actually in the same place.

The paper suggests that offices will become more broadly distributed instead of being concentrated in downtowns or business centers.

This will drive a lasting change in the landscape of cities as we now know them, which could become weighted towards residential and retail buildings, while we look to less concentrated, easy to access areas on the outskirts to house other commercial buildings. Suburban borders will blur and there will be a positive impact on transport networks, as congestion bottlenecks are eased and widespread uptake of homeworking or working in satellite offices dramatically reduces fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

This is not a very surprising conclusion to hear from a company that specializes in business communication software and services, and the idea that changing work preferences will radically reform urbanity seems a bit exaggerated. But it does raise an interesting question about how the location of work spaces could impact the location of other physical elements of cities, such as residences, parks, shopping areas and even transportation systems.

The dichotomy of a downtown business center and a suburban office park is surely an oversimplification. And though technology will likely enable more of a diversification of work environments between these two extremes, it's not likely that either will disappear. Some companies will still benefit from huge complexes out in the burbs, while others will still rely on the locational advantages of having fixed office space downtown and near other related actors in the economic ecosystem. But for those companies in between, there may be value in creating office environments that don't make it a deal-breaker for employees to live where they want – be it in the far-out exurbs or in a bustling urban center.

As I reported recently, a new report from The Brookings Institution has found that only about 25 percent of the workforce in the largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. can access jobs on transit within 90 minutes. Creating better connections between people and jobs will likely be an attractive feature in the near future. Better distributed job sites for occasional in-office work may be part of that solution.

Photo credit: Aly Song / Reuters

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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