I am writing a series of essays exploring #FutureWork: these are fragments of thought, not presented and ‘answers’, but rather provocations for conversation. Today i am sharing a piece which considers what work will look like when the Office fully dissolves into a holistic ecosystem.
As a young startup, GRAVITY INC new that it needed to control core costs, whilst developing it’s prototype product, and building market awareness before launch: for founders Jan and James, with their global team of 15, the only saving grace was that they would not need an office. Because the only offices still left were those dioramas that existed in the theme park of Old London.
After decades of centralisation and zoning, in the belief that critical mass of people and resource was necessary for innovation and effectiveness, the marble had finally dropped, and change had been wholesale and fast. Spurred by the rapid proliferation of collaborative technology, and the death of the old town centre ecosystems in the Pandemic of 2020, the new race had been towards dispersal, and repurposing, devolution, and new models of collaboration, at scale.
Essentially the cities had dispersed, and with good cause: housing in cities was cramped and expensive, so one of the first innovations had been the move towards more dispersed populations, living in Garden Houses (houses built to be multi-generational, using local materials, and set in their own green space – houses built to last and be passed on and down generations). Radically connected through ultra fast fibre, the need to travel to work was gone, and whilst people did travel, they took fewer, but longer, trips. The net reduction in pollution was assisted by the automated nature of the busses that proliferated, freeing up ‘travel time’ to be productive, or relaxing, or both! Bus communities themselves became productive ones, with travel schedules arranged not around ‘timetables’, but around ‘conversation schedules’.
Of course, not all work could be remote, so the Team Houses came to be a key perk offered by companies looking to engage the best talent: either individual pads, or shared housing, of extremely high quality, fully catered, and designed to be reconfigurable by project or team. These nexus communities would tackle different projects, but with shared spaces and resources. Kind of co-working on steroids.
Social activity evolves as well: the emergent Guilds would bring their shareholders (every practitioner) into their Hall for networking and development opportunities, and would typically provide accommodation and opportunity to spend time socialising as well. Instead of the old ‘out of town’ cinemas, and the giant theme parks, instead the old city centres were remodelled into media spaces, with street cafes, rides, themes and entertainment, with the only thing missing being traffic.
Co-working spaces proliferate, both distributed through the country, in every village and town, but also at higher density near to specific Guilds, providing skills development sessions, as well as networking.
With the death of the old Universities, the new global versions forsake the campus in favour of a web of spaces and opportunities, typically provided with high levels of small group support, in short form courses, and often in partnership with industry. The old dichotomy of ‘academia’ vs ‘industry’ evaporated when most of the teaching is done by practitioners, and most of the ‘sense making’ by alumni. Pure research is still greatly valued, but frequently carried out by collectives, and cross organisational groups, removing some older aspects of competition and with it the toxic system that rewarded ‘success’ and suppressed validating studies and less glamorous, but highly valuable, work of replicability and refinement.
The emergence of the new Collaboration hubs, alongside Innovation Centres, with a wealth of 3d printing and engineering resources, large scale, cheaply available, reconfigurable, and highly supported, space, makes prototyping and shared testing, commonplace.
Organisations that historically owned prestigious towers, and carried their pride in buildings now do the opposite, and share one beautiful Exec tower, surrounded by Corporate gardens and schools, which compete for prestige by providing accessible community utility and beauty. They create a beautiful and broad set of spaces for the enjoyment of all, grounding themselves within community.
One of the most prized spaces is a rehearsal one, where teams can turn learning, from collaboration and prototyping, into action, in safe spaces.
For GRAVITY INC it is this dispersed ecosystem that enables them to attract global talent, to rapidly develop product and market awareness, and to become effective, without becoming bloated and unresponsive. Jan and James are able to grow an Organisation that gives both them, and their employees, a high quality of life, coming together when needed, but thriving in wide open spaces, and with access to the highest quality development when they need it.
What Just Happened?
This view of ‘Office into Ecosystem’ imagines what would happen if we disposed of the idea of offices being central hubs, places we commute into, held within towns and cities that hold their infrastructure and support.
Key aspects of this view of #FutureWork are as follows:
- The physical structure of society mirrors the organisation of work – but in this view is dispersed, not centralised, and built to be sustainable, accountable, and fair.
- Instead of our physical environment reflecting the centralisation of resource and labour, it represents the emergent structures of expertise and collaboration, the new economy.
- Instead of an office ecosystem, with concurrent centralisation and cost, the new ecosystem is dispersed and cheap, but gives significantly greater space and quality of life to everyone, no longer crowded into high density cities (which themselves foster inequality of health and education outcomes.
- The idea that Organisations wear their pride through buildings and scale, is replaced by them supporting education and the greening of the landscape, pride through beauty and responsibility.
This is one of a series of disparate and imperfect essays exploring how work, and the society that it takes place within, may evolve. Not an answer, but a space for a conversation.
Office into Ecosystem – work as defined by a formal place, evolves into many social places where work is realised as an outcome. This will see the transformation of our built environment, a general distribution of labour, a wealth of richly networked third spaces, and the emergence of self organising specialist units of labour that contract into multiple organisations, including education and healthcare.