What’s the best kind of office?
For a handful of companies, the answer is: “No office at all.”
As described in a recent article in Quartz, Automattic—which created the ubiquitous blogging platform WordPress—allows its dispersed workforce of 260 employees to work from pretty much anywhere they want. When employees need to get together for a few days, the company schedules “meet-ups” at a central location. The company saves money, and employees can work on their own schedule.
“Everything is pointing in that direction [of decentralized companies],” Alex Abelin, co-founder of startup Liquid Talent, told Quartz. “We care more about mobility and independence.”
In this age of instant messaging, mobile devices, and email, nobody is ever out of touch during working hours; even at companies with centralized offices and a corporate focus on “face time,” far-flung colleagues can rely on a variety of communication apps to seamlessly collaborate on projects. Getting rid of offices altogether seems like the next logical step—at least for some kinds of firms.
Companies such as Automattic that build and market Internet apps, websites, or other intellectual goods can get away with ridding themselves of office space. But chucking real estate is a much thornier proposition—if not an impossible one—for the tens of thousands of companies out there that either build or retail physical goods. A car-maker can’t divest itself of factories and ask employees to build new sedans in their garages. Amazon could ask its employees to work from their home offices, but would still need warehouses in order to funnel packages to customers.
Even so, the ability of many companies to operate just fine without much (or any) office space speaks to the power of our communications apps, not to mention the flexibility of many managers and executives. The example of companies such as Automattic might not persuade everybody to dump their office space, but it could make other firms a little more receptive to the idea of employees working from home.
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