If the futurologists are correct we are about to see a huge shift in how our buildings work. Cloud computing is still in the formative stages but I can see a trend developing that will eventually be able to replace the traditional model of tethered desktop working.
There is endless geeky debate about what cloud computing actually is, but the key feature that affects the built environment is that by putting data and even the applications onto the cloud a business and its people will be able to free itself from the geographic restrictions and therefore the need for a building to carry out those traditional functions.
We’ve all seen laptops scattered around coffee shops. Whereas a few years ago those people were seen as either hardcore road warriors or sales reps far from home, the changes in accessibility mean that those meetings are now equally likely to be about business deals, job interviews, or even architects working on drawings.
Those people aren’t just working remotely from the office. They have understood (even if they don’t realise it) that don’t actually need an office at all!
It’s early days and this new-found flexibility could easily be mistaken as the death knell of the traditional office but I think that is a little premature. We are social creatures and the fact that coffee shops are providing meeting places says a lot about the desire to get together with colleagues.
What seems more likely is that there will be a shift in how commercial premises are used. Rather than being stuffed full of tethered technology a new model (models?) look like emerging where the building acts as a venue for the human network within.
That might mean smaller buildings with more flexible layouts. Perhaps hot-desking principles will see a resurgence or perhaps we’ll see more collaborative office layouts where groups form and disband quickly around projects rather than corporate structures.
Using the construction industry as our example, we’ve already seen on-site design offices. In the same way project teams from different disciplines and different firms could come together in a place to work together – maybe even for only a couple of days a week if they are engaged on multiple projects, with multiple teams. The physical closeness of the people in the team should lead to a better output in a shorter time with fewer problems, delays and future defects.
The key factor is the flexibility to form groups, sub-groups and then disband them within the project context.
It follows that the building will need to adapt to follow suit. Most of us would recognise that a building in no more than a container for what goes on inside. If the insides don’t need lots of technology, plant, equipment, HVAC, wiring, etc then the requirements for that container will change fundamentally.
Cloud computing might be the driver of the next great leap in workplace trends.